Birds, bats, and…. #angels ?

 

(excerpt from God Loves Birds, by Dawn Jones)

Martins abound in this place we are visiting, which presumably must be due in part to the martin houses nearby.  I’m not an Audubon, but that would seem to make some sense.  I am also not at home, and boy how I wish I had one of these special bird attractions in my yard, (or in my neighbor’s yard.)  Martins are really neat birds, not the least of which is due to their diet of mosquitoes, one of my arch-enemies.  My skin seems to have a natural affinity for mosquito tastebuds.  My husband says that he doesn’t need insect repellant when he is outside with me since I seem to hog all of these little stinging dive-bombers to myself.  So, naturally I love to see the martins swooping about, feasting themselves on my tormentors. (I like bats for the same reason, although I am less confident that my neighbors would appreciate a bat-house.) 

I have recently learned, however, (and to my disappointment), that mosquitoes actually do not make up a significant portion of the martins’ diet.  Interesting, these urban legends. 

Nevertheless, there is accurate information that purple martins are legitimately drawn to a housing/living environment with certain criteria to meet their specific needs:

  • The martins’ bird house must be high and away from trees and other structures.
  • They eat only flying insects, and they hunt for them at night.
  • Allowing uninvited guests to set up housekeeping will significantly discourage martins from taking up abode.
  • Painting housing white seems to attract martins the best.
  • Due to predators such as squirrels and raccoons, installing a pole guard helps to protect the martins’ nests and the on-going work of, well, being a martin.
  • The martin bride and groom are monogamous, faithful throughout the family process.

So here’s a thought—these beautiful creatures help me to imagine the ongoing relationship between God’s angels and Satan’s demonic forces. The angels are described as those beings which God sends to assist His people.  Demons, we are informed, are angelic unfortunates that lost their foothold in heaven by choosing a leader other than the One Who created them.  Most probably, this is an over-simplification of a deep theological event, but since I am not a trained theologian, it suits me just fine.  I’m not terribly concerned with the particulars, just the consequence and my response to it.

There has been a plethora of creative thinking about angels in the past decade or so, as well as what appears to be an upsurge of interest, secular and otherwise, in the spiritual dimension of our earthbound existence.  However, even our Anglo-ancestors had ideas that did not exactly jive with what the Bible describes as God’s messengers.  C.S. Lewis makes an astute observation in his book, Mere Christianity, that angels have been historically portrayed as nude, fat-bellied rosy-cheeked cherubs that one would want to pat on the head and say “there, there”, rather than the warriors that generally need to start their conversation with humans by saying “fear not!”

And yet angels are just as much an important part of our daily lives as is breathing air; that is, we are not generally aware of their presence, but would most certainly be the worse off without it.  So here’s my take on these wonderful creatures:

  • Angels have their true home on high, away from worldly (and underworldly) structures. They don’t reside here, no more than I live at my jobsite. They “present” themselves before their Creator, and are “presented” to us as a heavenly host, praising God when Jesus made His first appearance.  (1)
  • Since Satan is described as the “prince of the power of the air” (2), which, to a lesser degree, would also indicate the faculties of his evil emissaries, angels must have no gravitational limitations. What we consider flight in our world is merely movement in theirs. And in another and more comforting sense, God’s angels are on the hunt and can see just fine, even in our darkest moments when we cannot see anything clearly at all.  They are described as “encamping around those who revere God”, and as “ministering spirits sent out in the service of those who are to inherit salvation.”(3)
  • Despite their heavenly power, they are not omnipotent like their Creator, and their work can be thwarted and/or delayed when we allow “unsanctified visitors” to take up residence in our lives. (4) The demonic is drawn to our affirmative embraces of jealousy, bitterness, unforgiveness and offense. In his book, Victory Over Darkness, author Neil Anderson refers to decisions like these as “sin handles” that give Satan an opportunity to hang on. And Satan does not give up his territory without a struggle.
  • On the positive side, we can make the angels’ job a bit easier with the washing, cleaning process of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the accompanying behavioral decisions. Like the unwelcomed birds that make it harder for the martins to nest, so the unwelcomed attitudes and habits can be scrubbed out and my “house” swept clean. My sanctification is a joint project between myself and God, and I need all the help I can get!  So why make the angels’ job to help me any harder than it already is?  A large part of this washing is available in the form of God Word being continually poured into my life, which means I need to physically pick up the book (or whatever media device is available), and start reading. (5)
  • To follow this idea, I can set up “pole protectors” in my daily life. These come in the form of personal boundaries, such as Dr. Henry Cloud suggests in his book, Changes that Heal. These boundaries help define the use of my time, my relationships, and all of the other resources that Satan would love to define for me.  When I allow my arch enemy to do this, he will undoubtedly try to cheat, steal and destroy the work that God’s holy angels are trying to accomplish for me. (6) Therefore, I am wise to erect the proper “protectors”.
  • By whatever process and historical events, God’s glorious and “chosen” angels are no longer tempted to be unfaithful to Him. (7) Augustine, living and thinking and praying in the 4th and 5th centuries, tried to tackle this issue in one of his many tomes. The practical, bring-it-home-to-me point is that the angels watching and warring over me are faithful to God, without exception, without coercion, and interact with no one’s plan but that of their Creator. I need their faithfulness.

So, as I said, since our out of town visit and my encounter with the purple martins, I have learned that mosquitoes are not necessarily a main staple of their buggie-diet.  No matter.  To me, bugs are bugs, and with the considerable exception of butterflies, I am happy to share my entomological population with ANY avian neighbors lodging nearby. 

And as it is with this wonderful species of bird, so it is with God’s beautiful angels, in that there exists a certain unfounded mythology concerning who they are and what they do.  The evidence about angels that is noteworthy does not have its foundation on anecdotes, Hollywood, novels, or even personal experience.  Our only reliable source of information concerning them and their mission is found in the source document of the Christian faith, the Bible, and where it is silent, we must content ourselves to be likewise.  We are prudent, therefore, to beware of “urban legends” that would try to excite us, causing us to pursue erroneous ends, like buying a martin house, then sitting on my patio without mosquito repellant.  I fancy I would be most uncomfortable the next day.

Maybe I could somehow interest the martin family in a new taste treat…?

 

  • Job 1:6 (Amplified); Luke 2:13-15
  • Ephesians 2:2
  • Psalm 34:7; Hebrews 1:14 (Amplified)
  • Daniel 10:11-13
  • 2 Corinthians 7:1; 2 Timothy 3:16
  • 1 Peter 5:8
  • 1 Timothy 5:21

 

 

For the #educators in your life!

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Many years ago while traveling in the backcountry of Baja I learned an important lesson that I have carried with me ever since.

Several of us were on a fishing adventure slowly making our way down the old Mexican 1 which serpentines it’s way along the backbone of this wild peninsula. We were in the middle of one of the loneness and driest places on earth, the Vizcaino Desert, when I felt a hard jolt followed by a loud clanging. My jeep coasted to a halt next to a large Boogun tree, engine still running. My son, Sam, ran up the dusty road and retrieved the driveshaft. It is amazing at how quiet and empty the desert can feel when you are broken down in the middle of it.

After a little trouble-shooting we figured that we could limp back to the village of Catavina some miles away by engaging the 4WD, which still transferred power to the front wheels. And so we began a long and tedious trek back to that little pueblo.

Upon arriving, we searched for a mechanic to help us. Actually, this place had more abandoned dwellings than occupied. But as luck would have it we found a guy who had ran out of money and was stranded there waiting for an opportunity to continue his journey North and he was a mechanic—only in Mexico.

Julio examined the shaft by rolling it on the crumbling pavement of an old abandoned gas station to check its trueness. I remember looking at a peeling mural of a map of the peninsula with a star marking our location. We were a long ways from home. The station had shut down years before for lack of traffic. Since its closure, the only fuel available was gotten from fifty-gallon drums strained through a chamois. My attention went back to Julio, who was shaking his head while examining the broken strap. We would not be traveling far without a new one.

I began to worry when he shaded his eyes from the intense Baja sun and scanned the surrounding desert. Without a word, he abruptly left us and carefully picked his way through the cacti toward a line of wrecked vehicles. I watched him disappear underneath a rusting Chevy pickup with a cholla growing up through its missing hood.

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Upon returning, he told me he needed 80 pesos to pay the man who “owned” it. Sensing I did not understand, he explained that he would have to salvage the pin bearings from it and further he would need to buy a strap from another “owner” of an old Ford rusting on the other side of the road. He smiled sweeping his arms across the desert encompassing at least thirty old, rusting vehicles and said, “This is my parts department.” The parts he needed he would savage off these abandoned wrecks.

Without any further discussion, he began to work. Using the tools we always carried on these adventures and an old rickety jack, he worked for a couple hours in the sweltering heat. First he replaced each pin bearing one by one and than slowly jacked the shaft back up in place using a cradle he had made from pieces of wood he had sent the village children out to gather from along side the road.

By now we had attracted most of the villagers: us being the best entertainment in town. I remember my friend, Fritz, teaching the game of chess from the tailgate of his pickup.

I asked Julio at one point how he was going to balance the shaft so it would spin true when reconnected to the engine. He smiled as he propped one end on a rock and took a small hand sledge and carefully lifted it a few inches above and struck it. He did this a couple of times more with care and precision. When he finished, he proudly said, “Hecho en Mexico!” Made in Mexico!

I paid Julio less than a hundred dollars for the whole job, which got him on his way and us as well. We continued our journey south to explore many bays and beaches without names that fueled countless campfire stories to this day. Years later, I passed that jeep on to my son and it still runs and has never needed any modifications to Julio’s repairs.

When you leave the frontiers and venture down the back roads of Baja there is no Auto Club to call, no machine shops, no dealerships, or Auto Zones to stop at. You only have yourself and the kindness of strangers. These strangers, the locals, are geniuses at making do with what they have. They live by the adage that necessity is the mother of all invention. It is what surely attracts me to these lonely places over and over.

Being an educational leader in these times is not much different. We are bombarded with an endless stream of regulations and directives from the state and federal government that cost large sums of money to implement while we are asked to do it with less.

We find ourselves spending more and more time out of classrooms meeting the needs of outside bureaucrats who claim to have all of the answers. But when all is said and done, the solutions are in the talent we have all around us. The secret to our success is the same as Julio’s; use our own talent and ingenuity to solve the problem.

We need to invest in ourselves for a change. This of course, will not make the test making companies, “consultants,” textbook publishers, software designers and outside trainers very happy in their quest for billions of our tax dollars.

But in my experience, a good teacher who makes positive connections with children will out perform any program, any time. That is were I would put my money because I am used to betting on winners.

I already have what I need to continue to move MPH forward. I am proud to say I work with a cadre of world-class, talented and willing teachers and staff. We should never forget that our greatest resource is all around us—It is, us. “Hecho en Rim of the World!”

#Mom For Hire

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Posted: MOM FOR HIRE, used but in acceptable condition.  Still capable of giving unwanted advice, making you wear a hat in the cold, and generally being an embarrassment in public. Does not do windows.  Inquire below–

That title is almost as pretentious as tagging myself as a “writer”.  But if so, it’s probably of little consequence, due to the nature of the blogosphere.  It’s not like being in high school when you had to read something and do a book report (I wonder if they still do that??)  And I know that this post is mere nano-particle in a galaxy of worm holes and flashy comets (yes, I was a Star Trek fan back in the day–the original version, to be clear.)

And yet, there is something to be said about starting my twenties by having three babies and ending that decade with selling Girl Scout cookies while putting their father through grad school.  (I.U.-Bloomington, go big red!)  My thirties were filled with prepubescence and flaming adolescence, braces, sporting events, and the task of helping the girls “find themselves”, despite the unfortunate fact that I didn’t even know myself that well yet.  That’s right, we have no sons, and I was informed that our house rules were “strict” by their friends’ parents’ standards.  My home became know as “the Convent” and I was nicknamed (affectionately, I hope) “Mother Superior”.  

Forty-something was the transitioning from a full house to my little goslings flying off to college one at a time.  I remember the night of my actual “empty nest” experience.  Our baby girl, Heather, was on her way out the door for her first night in her new dorm room.  Now granted, all the girls spent their first two years of collegiate existance at the small college where their dad is a prof.  Basically, down the street and around the corner.  But still, this was a bit of a milestone…at least for me!  Goodbye hugs, etc. No more boom boxes competing on different levels of the house.  No more choir concerts, band concerts, and various awards ceremonies at the high school. No more prom dresses, monthly allowances, or staying up waiting from someone to make it home by curfew.  Wow.

The college starts their year like most, in August.  Here in southern Missouri, August is not the most pleasant month, unless you’re a tropical iguana.  Naturally, Heather’s dorm room was hot and sweaty since she was living on one of the upper floors.  It wasn’t long (a few hours, max) before I picked up the phone hearing a request to bring herself and two or three of her new friends “home” to spend that night in the cool air-conditioning. 

The empty nest can be a bit overrated anyway…

People tend to refer to life stages as “seasons.”  My life is better described as “spasms”.  I am now in my mid-fifties, gray-er, somewhat more experienced.  I have grown to appreciate my parents, who are now in their 80’s, and the humor through which they process life.  I have grown to value my past struggles and mistakes, and embrace whatever God has for me (and my family) for the future.  

So there.  If you are over-heating in life, or even if not, I invite you to join my blog-nest, thoughts (and responses) from a well-used mother, from my home to yours.    —-    dawnlizjones

Dirty Hands… Happy Heart

First, let me just say that…

…my father-in-law is a Master Gardener and I have turned to him more than once for advice and assistance.  George does things correctly…the first time.  He has patience and experience; he is a builder of things.  He designed a special birdfeeder for my garden, and not only explained, but also got his hands dirty helping me “re-do” some potted plants that desperately needed to be, well….re-done.  In spite of my obvious inexperience, there was no chiding, only gentle and joyful condescension like a father to a child.

Our lives, our relationships, our families, and our own hearts are so much the same as my innocent garden with all its mess in the midst of beauty.  Who saw the divorce coming?  How could anyone have prepared for the accident?  Lost the house, what now?  Why does life have to be so hard?!

Master Gardener or invested amateur, navigating through life’s gardens takes more than the basics, even more than the best planning.  We, all of us, none excluded, need help, and usually more than a little.  We need the original Master Gardener Himself to walk through the garden of our lives, tending the soil, rearranging the environment, mulching, weeding and nurturing us.  And along the way, He makes us flexible, creative, patient, and attentive to what He supplies for our needs.

This is my offering.  A few seeds and grains of dirt from my life’s garden to yours. 

I hope it helps good things to grow on your side of the fence!

—-dawnlizjones

What about the dog??

As assested to by the pictures of muddy pawprints in my kitchen and an unplanned dog run in the yard , we are a dog family.  My business-minded daughter, Robin, set me up with an Esty site to sell some things I had made out of yarn, and suffice it to say that, although the page advertised the items being from a “smoke-free” home, we definitely could NOT say that our home is a pet-free zone.

At this post, we are on our fourth fuzzy family member, not to mention a few visitors that have come and gone.  My husband bonds excessively with his canine compadres, so after #3 expired, it took me a whole year and a half to convince him that it was time for another.  Such is the emotional connection we allow ourselves to get into with our pets, and as difficult as good-byes can be, those “live in the moment” times (something are dogs try to teach us, I suppose) are well worth it.

In fact, there are many good lessons our dogs can teach us.  By the way, I might as well confess in this first endeavor that our dogs talk to us.  Yes, I suppose that’s what I would call it.  It’s not unusual for someone to talk to their dog, being such good listeners and all.  Our dogs, however, have a propensity for verbal response, and many times somewhat uncouth ones at that. I have, as yet, been unable to train them to behave themselves in their choices of conversational topics, particularly with company present, and have resigned myself to thier unfeigned social inappropriateness.

Despite that, and at times because of it, dogs have added emmensely to my family’s collective personality as, if you choose to continue in this “category”, you will soon share…

dawnlizjones

Hate those #weeds !

(Excerpt from God Loves Gardens, by Dawn Jones)

Weeding.  Yuck.  Why is it that during a drought, weeds still grow? 

I love the flowers and the plants; I love the tomatoes and the fresh herbs.  But let’s face it, weeds are the pits.  Some of their roots go so doggone deep!  And they spread, underneath the surface where you can’t see them, until they pop up somewhere else.  They suck up water, a precious resource by any definition, but especially “tres chere” during July and August in southern Missouri, and especially this year.  Weeding is in the “not fun” section of my gardening book.

“Not fun” is, however, usually a prerequisite to “fun”. 

I now have certain pieces of equipment to take care of said weeds:

  • Thickly padded knee pads. This shows that I mean business. I hate to admit it, but getting down on my knees is not as convenient as it was 20 years ago.  And then there’s the getting up part.  So “knee work” takes effort, as well as, at times, more than just a little discomfort.
  • Weed fork. At least that’s what I call the wicked looking thing. It has sharp little fangs that penetrate deeply into the weeded area to help pull up as much of the root as possible.  It’s a merciless piece of metal, probably invented by someone without knee pads who wanted to spend as little time as he could on his knees.
  • Chemical herbicide. Yes, I know, not exactly eco-friendly, but you don’t know the extent of the weed habitat in my yard. I don’t use it much, sparingly, but it is part of the heavy artillery in my arsenal.
  • Sometimes I wear gloves, but even with those, I always—I mean always—manage to get dirt under my fingernails. So really, I should also here mention my fingernail scrub brush, which sometimes even itself doesn’t fully complete the cleaning up job 
  • Timeliness – rather than put it off until another day, telling myself that I’ll do it all at once, (ha!), it is so much better to see a weed, and pull it on the spot. When it comes to weeds, procrastination only allows them to grow deeper and sprout additional “weed-babies”.

Weeds are a pain, no doubt, but they must be dealt with unless I want to allow them to dominate the garden.  And that includes the weeds in my life-garden as well.  Unforgiveness, bitterness, jealousy—these are some big ones.  Then there’s deception, slothfulness, and gossip.  Unkind words are really ugly weeds whose roots can really go deep and pop up when and where we absolutely don’t expect them.  All of these, and more, (since there are many species of “life-weeds”), suck up the precious water of our existence and threaten to dominate our days…unless we take diligent action.

  • Weeding in our life takes commitment—commitment to the point of discomfort, and often times, more than just a little. The writer of the book of Hebrews warns that “for the time being, no discipline brings joy, but seems grievous and painful”—now there’s an understatement! But he goes on to say that “afterwards it yields a peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”  Okay, I like that part.  If makes sense that if I don’t want the weeds listed above, or any other species of unwanted harvest, there is only one person responsible for eradicating them—me.  The same writer then adds this encouragement: “So then, brace up and reinvigorate and set right your slackened and weakened and drooping hands and strengthen your feeble and palsied and tottering knees.”  (Has he been spying on me while I’m gardening??)   Although that may sound a bit harsh to our sensitive 21st century ears, it’s actually quite helpful.  There are time when, oh yes, I can feel very tottering and weak, even discouraged when I work, and work, and yet keep seeing things in my character and personality with which I am sorely displeased, a weed popping up when I thought I had taken care of it or a new unknown weed that I’ve never seen before.  What the writer is saying here, however, indicates that this courage, this strength is, in fact, available to me.  So brace yourself (or pad yourself!) for the impact, expect the pain, but know that the results of our hard work will be rewarded. (1)
  • We need to go as deeply as possible to the root of the problem. Surface weeding may allow the garden to appear well-tended, but as the saying goes, looks can be (and usually are) deceiving. I think of my weed fork, a sharp and menacing-looking tool that, in the right hands and wielded skillfully, can bring up roots while yet sparing the precious soil. This kind of deep life-weeding takes time and effort, and we may need the help of a friend, or sometimes even a professional.  It is here that we must be willing to allow God to search and reveal as only His light can do. As the Psalmist said, “Search me thoroughly, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me…” (2)  And then let Him have control of the tool.
  • We must not disregard the heavy artillery of spiritual warfare. As Keith Green so aptly illustrated in a song that is supposed to be Satan himself singing to us:

                          I used to have to sneak around,

                          But now they just open their doors! 

                          You know, no one’s watching for my tricks

                          Because no one believes in me anymore! (3)

One of the enemy’s main tactics is deception.  Our Lord uncovered this by describing Satan as a liar and even the father of lies. (4) This age-old adversary will try to convince us of everything from false guilt feelings lingering after true repentance, to thinking we have committed the unpardonable sin.  Yes, I’ve been there too.  But God says otherwise.  We must arm ourselves for continued battle, and learn to use this critical piece of spiritual artillery. There is much well balanced writing on practical, Biblically based spiritual warfare.  In our culture, we are many times uncomfortable with this aspect of what used to be assumed in the early church as a normal part of Christian life.  The Bible makes it clear that it still is. (5)

  • Certainly, we cannot be afraid to get our hands dirty while we dig about in our lives, removing the weeds with the help of our Holy Gardener Himself. Sometimes it’s also a matter of getting our hands dirty helping weed around someone else’s life, after which are just as concerned with keeping ourselves cleaned up! Paul, in writing to the church at Corinth, reminds us as he reminded them, to be careful to watch ourselves, especially when we think we are doing well.   We are just as prone, whether we like to admit it or not, to lapse into tempting thoughts and behaviors as the ones we have been helping.  Maybe not the same temptations, but sinful dirt under our nails nonetheless.  Our Lord promised to wash us clean when we bring this dirt to him, and surely it pleases Him to do so! (6)
  • And, of course, when the Master Gardener points out a weed, we must not delay in getting it taken care of as quickly as possible, so that successful growing time is on our side, not the weed’s. When God calls us to a specific repentance to a particular life-weed, procrastination is not a good idea. The longer we wait, the deeper it grows, and the more resources it wastes on itself. Most gardeners have seen this happen over time in flower beds that are habitually untended—yuck!   And one of the unhappy consequences of such neglect is that the seeds of the weeds float into my yard, (and honestly, I have enough of my own to deal with), then I have to tend to those as well!  Gossip, for example, spreads into others’ minds and hearts and begins to root (very quickly, I might add) unkind thoughts concerning the victim being gossiped about.  Another culprit is irritability—that one spreads like dandelion seeds!  (7)

In seasons of plentiful water, or in times of difficult drought, weeds seem to flourish both in our gardens, and in our lives.  Yet we are not without the proper tools to deal effectively with them.  The alternative is to ignore them or to pretend they don’t exist.

And, really, a weed would love nothing better… 

  • Hebrews 12:10-12 (Amplified)
  • Psalm 139:23-24 (Amplified)
  • No One Believes in Me Anymore, by Keith Green, c. 1977
  • John 8:44
  • 2 Corinthians 10:4, Ephesians 6:11-12 (For a good resource in this area, see Neil Anderson’s Victory Over Darkness, and The Bondage Breakers, both from Harvest House Publishers. Another good resource is The Handbook of Spiritual Warfare, by Ed Murphy from Nelson Publishers.)
  • 1 Corinthians 10:12-13; Ephesians 5:26-27
  • Proverbs 15:1

#Birdseed : Feast for the chosen ones…only!

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(Excerpt from God Loves Birds, by Dawn Jones)

Earlier this summer I rode my town bike to the nearby feed store to purchase a couple of bags of bulk bird seed, each weighing 50 pounds.  The owners know me, but looked a bit incredulous, (or was it mild amusement?), when they noted that I was toting my wares home in the second-hand child carrier attached to my second-hand Schwinn.  No matter.  Trailing the cumulative 100 pounds was not as significant as unloading it once I arrived home, not wholly unlike the railroad ties from the back of my old Suburban from the year before!

Gratefully, the birdseed is packaged in thick and hearty reinforced bags.  Surely they would be safe from unwelcomed intruders.  But thanks to my naivety, I later discovered one bag that I had left sitting on the driveway stealthily chewed into with some of the contents spilled onto the ground.  Fine.  Not to be outdone by some thieving rodent or squirrel, I loaded the bag (with some effort) into the large plastic trash container on top of the other bag already neatly seated in there.  Of course it didn’t exactly fit, but that didn’t seem to matter since the container’s top had been missing for a long time anyway, being eaten by the garbage truck several years ago.  That should take care of the critters; they wouldn’t go to the trouble of getting at the seed now.

However, ignorance, in this case, was not bliss, but it was messy.  My husband duly informed me that, once again, critters had plundered my stock of feed scattering their leftovers on the garage floor.  Now it was my move again.  Seed sacks repositioned, top removed from some other container down in the basement placed over the seed, hard plastic small (portable) lock-top container fitted into place atop the larger one.  Ha!  Let them try THAT one!

They did.

Fortunately, this time, all they managed before giving up was to chew off the plastic locks, but apparently then decided to chalk this round up in my favor.  They haven’t come back…yet.  It wouldn’t take much inattention on my part, however, for the neighborhood squirrels and/or mice to consider my slack as an engraved invitation to another feast.

Our time and energy are so very much like the precious bird seed, and the demands of our lives are reminiscent of these persistently pesky squirrels.  Without deliberate boundaries, life’s “demands” take on a marauding quality, depleting what we would otherwise have in reserve, rather than preserving that what we have for those with whom we would choose to share it.  The “it” I am referring to is, of course, both our time and our energy.  And time and energy are much in short supply for our relationships with family, spouse, friends, as well as time alone with the Lord Himself Who waits patiently for us each and every day. 

Or again, my pitifully attacked birdseed is like the indescribably valuable spiritual food that God has graciously provides for us.  This expensive and necessary provision must be jealously guarded from the attack of our Enemy, who stands ready at all times to “break in and steal” in the form of busy-ness, or deception, or guilt feelings, or the many other forms of assault in his arsenal, since he is both a thief and a liar.  He does his reconnaissance well, knows his options exhaustively, and can be very, very persistent.  But his tricks are not new, and we are assured by excellent sources that we have more options at our disposal then he does.  Many more.

Both of these potential drains on our resources must be diligently and constantly guarded against.  It is only with God’s wisdom that we should mete out our precious resources of time and energy according to His plan.  It is through diligent use of our time and energy that we prevent the wasting away of our intimacy with our Heavenly Father.  Both can be misused and abused, but only with our consent, whether ignorant or intentional.

Personally, I paid for the birdseed and went to considerable effort to tote it home, so I’d rather use it for my intended purpose.

How ’bout some jelly on that #manna?

The Old Testament records the travel plans of the newly reorganized and very fussy nation of Israel on their way to the place that had been long promised to them as a special homeland.  Sometimes I’m tempted to think, “For crying out loud, people!”  (Which they did, frequently.)  I mean, after all, God had done some pretty amazing things from the beginning of this project, what with plagues and parting the Red Sea, Charlton Heston notwithstanding.  There was plenty of water from a rock to satisfy a couple million people or so, and enough quail to feed an army.

And then there was this thing called manna.  I think the jury is still out as to what this stuff really was, which is kind of a moot point, since it was obviously enough to keep them nutritionally sustained over time.  Kind of like the limbis bread of the wood elves in the Lord of the Rings.  (Yes, I own the trilogy of movies, directors cut and all that,… but I digress.)

I readily claim that I’m not a picky eater, and neither is Bob.  But admittedly we do enjoy some, albeit limited, variety in our palate.  I joke that I could live on pizza, but the reality is that even my homemade pizza would probably get a bit old over time.  So in a somewhat shaky defense of the Hebrew people, my very human side can relate to a diet of everyday manna bread and water, even though it made them very healthy indeed.  (I can only imagine the mothers of the five-year-olds….)

However, it seems that the people never quite learned how to address their grievances judiciously to the God that was so obviously trying to help them.  It wasn’t that they were hungry or thirsty.  They were just bored.  Bored with the desert, bored with constantly moving,….bored with bread, and more bread, and only bread.

Put that thought on hold to check out how their future king, David, managed his frustrations and fears and disappointing circumstances with God.  Here’s just a snipet of one of his many recorded communiques with his Lord:

Be gracious to me, O God, for man has trampled upon me;
Fighting all day long he oppresses me. My foes have trampled upon me all day long,
For they are many who fight proudly against me.
When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.
In God, whose word I praise,
In God I have put my trust;
I shall not be afraid.
What can mere man do to me?
 You have taken account of my wanderings;
Put my tears in Your bottle.
Are they not in Your book?
 Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call;
This I know, that God is for me.
 In God, whose word I praise,
In the Lord, whose word I praise,
 In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?  (see Psalm 56, NASB)

Now David wasn’t just having a bad day.  This was written in the context of his true enemies (and he had many) capturing him in his own wanderings prior to his providential promise of ascending to the throne.  David had no problem “pouring out his complaint to the Lord”, it’s just that he knew how to do it properly.  It’s not about using the right words; it’s all about having the right heart.  David didn’t mince words with God; he didn’t candy coat the problem or his own emotional response to it.  But even in the muck and the mire of dealing with life, he maintained that God was with him, God was in control, and no matter how long it took, he would continue to trust God for the outcome.

Deep breath.  Back to the Israelites.  They just hadn’t grown up enough to understand and appreciate with Whom they were dealing.  Unfortunately, as it has been said, desperate times call for desperate measures.  God sent in “the snakes” to do a severe work of judgment.  And then, in typical fashion, He also provides a way of healing once bitten.

  • I find it interesting that God uses snakes to do the dirty work, since Satan was described as a snake in the garden after deceiving Mother Eve. The original sin was pride, thinking that we should be allowed to “be like God” (which, really, we already were, being made “in His image”, all that.)  Like Eve, the Hebrews thought they were “entitled” to more than manna, more than what God deemed healthy for them for that point in the journey.  Hmmm….
  • The account goes on to say that the people became impatient (Oh!  That word!!) with the long journey and complained about the manna, i.e., God’s provision.  Not complained in the sense of David’s pouring out his honest frustrations to God “Whom he knew would do what is best, and trusted Him with his life, regardless of current circumstances” kind of complaining.  This was more of a “how dare you invite us out here and feed us nothing but bread” category, and the snakes were happy to accommodate.  There is a very important warning here: when I complain to God with a victimhood mentality, with a feeling that I am entitled to more than I have (instead of a humble “I know what I really deserve” kind of thinking) there are definite “snakes” just waiting for a piece of me.  Their names are Bitterness, Resentment, Jealousy, and Offense, and they have many, many sibling slitherers close behind that are just as poisonous to my soul
  • Interestingly, once the people asked for forgiveness, God didn’t just remove the snakes. They were still lurking around, waiting and watching.  But God gave the people a pole to look upon should they be bitten, and having gazed upon the pole, they would be healed.  Similarly, if, through unresolved heart issues, we allow ourselves to be bitten, we really have only one option for true healing, and that is to gaze upon the One Who was raised up on a cross for us. 

So yeah….shut up and pass the quail.

This ain’t Missouri

IWAA7We are visiting my husband’s family, all of us on the edge of the continent known as the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Only a few rows of houses from the beach, we can hear the roar of the ocean waves and feel the breeze off the Atlantic.  Right now, though, I am on the other side of the house, on the patio (of course) in the morning.  Not much breeze on this side, except for the fan, and the morning dew is so thick that it’s dripping off the roof. 

The view here, on both sides of the house is considerable different from Missouri, definitely “not home”. These are not the same people jogging, walking and riding bikes along the street and sidewalk.  Back home I see Sherry as she strolls up Central Street on her way to work.  Back home I see waving prairie grasses and bison, not cresting waves and beachcombers.  In my county I see bass and catfish and perch jumping out of the lakes, not dolphins arching up from the ocean.  At our local park I see turtles sunning themselves on the logs, instead of jellyfish remains drying up on the white sand.

Then I hear it—the call of the catbird, that unmistakable feline sound, easily identified even by my untrained ear.  And I am reminded that, though I may not be in my familiar territory, God is still here.  And everywhere, His voice is the same, immutable, unmistakable.

We are told that we go through seasons of life, rites of passage, some of which are culturally induced although some are admittedly universal.  Personally, I feel almost that my “seasons” have been more like “spasms”—can anyone relate?  Nevertheless, we move from one set of experiences inexorably into another.  Not only do we have to navigate from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood—emotionally as well as physically—but we also have other times of joy and struggle:

  • School—most of us in the United States have been blessed with the availability of public education, and many of us are still impacted by memories and experiences of those infamous junior high years.
  • Moves—more and more frequently in the past several decades of our society have we seen the increase in the mobility of families. In the past, if you were a military family, that was a given. Now, however, it may seem quite unusual in many places for any child to start kindergarten and graduate from high school in the same place.
  • Relationships—marriage, child-rearing, child-releasing. You just have to “be there” to really understand this one…
  • Collateral damage—it is also becoming somewhat unusual to see family members that all have the same last name. Blended families, whether from death or divorce, bring special challenges all their own.

Certainly there are many, many more examples that could added to this list, times when being resilient and flexible can be most helpful.  While resiliency is an essential quality to cultivate so as to survive and thrive this side of Heaven, true resiliency can only happen when there remains a stable reference point.  Elastic is very resilient, but to retain that characteristic, it must have a place to snap back to.  Flexibility is a good thing, but flexibility cannot even be defined unless there is a starting point from which to measure it.  (At least, that’s what it seems like when my daughters try to teach me some yoga or Palate moves!  Ouch!)

In a world of changes and challenges, of unfamiliar circumstances and scary possibilities, God has said that even though the heavens and the earth pass away, His word would never do so. (1)  He also says that He, as God of the Universe, does not change. (2)  He promises that He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. (3)  Only with God can we find the perfect interconnection with resiliency and immutability, between flexibility and stability. Only in relationship with Him can we properly define our starting point and make it safely to the end.

Another one of these “seasons” is yet upon me, and although its unrelenting hold has become more gentle, I am aware that the hold of the Father has never changed.  He is aware of this time in my life, anticipated it for me, knew the particulars would be unfamiliar, and sometimes unfriendly, to me.

 And He sent me His catbird to remind me of His unchanging and unfailing presence, no matter where I am on earth, or in life.

  • Luke 21:33
  • Malachi 3:6
  • Hebrews 13:8

(Excerpt from God Loves Birds, by Dawn Jones)

#morningperson vs. #nightperson !!

Perhaps there was something prophetic in the fact that my parents named me “Dawn”, since clearly I am not a night person.  Unlike my husband, Bob, and our eldest daughter, Jessica, both of whom are summarily nocturnal, I tend to rise with the sun and start winding down at dusk (if not before).  This fact was recently re-confirmed when I attempted to stay up at night waiting for Jessie availability to video-chat regarding plans and arrangements for her upcoming wedding.  However, there was one important glitch concerning our e-date: she lives in California and we are in Missouri, which is a two-hour time differential not in my favor. 

Even though I downed yet another cup of black tea late in the evening, and watched mindless television, (since reading at night rapidly puts me to sleep), finally my brain and body reneged on our plans.  After texting Jessie my apologies and need for a rain check, my head hit the pillow.  Unfortunately, I had unsettling dreams—was it the TV, the extra caffeine, or just being off-schedule?  Either way, I didn’t pull myself out of the sack until after 7AM in the morning, which was definitely sleeping in for me, and being the morning person that I am, meant that a fair chunk of the best time of the day was already gone!

So there I was, then, sitting at my desk, just too tired to arrange myself on the patio as usual.  The bike ride I had planned with my husband for later that day was tanked also.  In fact, after a lovely and productive time the day before, I was having some motivational difficulty as this particular one wore on. 

Jessie and Bob are night owls…I love to see the sunrise.  Jessie and Bob love to celebrate her home visits with late night chats and cheesy monster movies…I love to serve them surprise breakfast in their beds the next morning.  My eldest daughter and her father can discuss a topic in great detail to its utter encyclopedic conclusion…I tend to prefer synopsis, just the crib-note version, if you don’t mind.

There are many ways in which our differences can be considerably inconvenient, even downright irritating—that’s a given.  Several times when my husband has (finally) come to bed, he inadvertently wakes me up, but rather than quietly getting under the covers, it seems like his brain tells him, “Oh, good, she’s awake!” and he proceeds to pontificate on some deep personal revelation or travail.  Of course, loving him as I do, my brain says, “You need to listen; he needs you,”  like I should somehow allow myself to be drawn into this conversation lest he be left alone with his thoughts.  My body, on the other hand, disagrees.  Naturally, if I listen to my brain rather than my body, chances are by the time the conversation is over and we are both lying in bed, and I be wide awake as I hear my Beloved breathing sonorously and peacefully next to me…sound asleep.  And my work alarm goes off at 5AM. 

So, in this sense really, where is Jessie when I need her?

As I write this, I am sitting, as usual, on the patio, having had an unusually warm and early spring.  It is only late March, and the trees are already leafing, the daffodils are already done, and I have plants poking through the soil by several inches.  My gardening friends and I are holding our breath hoping the frost won’t reappear!  I’m realizing yet again the marvel of my garden’s diversity, as I’m rethinking some of my planting designs (using the term “design” loosely).  I might put the tomatoes in a different place where they will get more sun, and enjoy deeper more fertile soil.  I might plant more salad greens where the tomatoes were last year—I want to try the Swiss Chard somebody suggested.  Not sure if the new hostas got enough shade last year so I may need to revisit that plan.

I am re-reading a beautiful book by Linda Dillow entitled Calm My Anxious Heart, and I’m in the chapter on being content to be me. Mrs. Dillow comments wisely regarding a favorite Old Testament song, Psalm 139.  In this Psalm, King David was expounding on the uniqueness of our birth and plan for our lives, among many other fascinating truths regarding God’s design and intent for putting me here, in this body, this place, and this time. 

Just as I am thankful that God created so many different plants for all types of gardens, whether for sun or shade, whether for cool, spring temperatures or hot mid-summer Missouri Julys, so also He has wisely and lovingly provided a massive diversity of traits in people. 

  • Some of us are up front, on stage, and in the spotlight; some are hidden in seeming obscurity. One is tempted to covet the other’s quiet and anonymity, while the other may pine away for what she perceives is a lack of appreciation.
  • Some of us are bold and outspoken, completely un-intimidated by what others may think or feel; their counterpart is diplomatic, a person of few words, and sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of other. The first tends to regret speaking rashly, while the second longs for the courage to speak out more.
  • Some of us have physical disabilities that prevent us from doing the things that come so easily to others—they feel they are missing out on so much fun! Others of us have perfectly functioning bodies, but struggle daily with emotionally or mentally crippling disorders such that, to be rid of, we would gladly give our right arm.

The grass is always greener…I know it’s not an original thought, but still one that’s all too true.  Like our garden plants, God makes His people all different to fit us into His grand design.  In one of his letters to the early church at Corinth, Paul writes that we are to no longer look at people from a worldly point of view, but from God’s point of view.  Regardless of whatever “defect” at which the rest of society points their finger in regards to someone’s personality or property, or their body, or  their bank account, God sees them differently, and His opinion is really the only one that counts. 

So also am I to see myself. Paul encourages the church at Corinth to “lead the life which the Lord has allotted and imparted to him and to which God has invited and summoned him.” (2) We can rightfully infer from that truth that God has “allotted, imparted, invited and summoned” us all to a life of service in Jesus within our circumstances, our personalities, and even with what the rest of society might think of as defects.   After all, God is the One Who is capable of turning our “defects” into delights. 

The NCAA basketball tournament is in full swing, and March Madness has once again infected my husband. I wonder what time he’ll be to bed tonight?  No matter. The garden will still be here tomorrow when the sun comes up, and so will I.

(Excerpt from God Loves Gardens by Dawn Jones)

  • 2 Corinthians 5:16
  • 1 Corinthians 7:17 (Amplified)