Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Holiday wishes

I hope you won't mind a shorter post this week, as I'm still catching up on rest after many blessings this Christmas: presents to wrap and open, many good things to eat, and a house filled to the brim with loved ones. Most especially -- I found the blessing of forgiveness at our Christmas Eve service in offering a communion cup to someone who had deeply hurt me. The moment was the best gift for me this Christmas.

I wish these same things for you in the coming year -- blessings that fill your home and heart to the brim, forgiveness for those who need it, and, most of all, the comfort of loved ones near you. Thank you for reading through the year. You -- my blog readers -- are a treasure to me.

A gift from a dear friend, a favorite "treasure" on this year's tree

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A psalm to light dark days

Since Monday, I've had three friends tell me they're battling the blues, despite the joy they're *supposed* to feel during this holiday season.

This can be a tough season. Tomorrow is the shortest day of the year (and by that, I mean the number of hours of sunlight, though for those of you with Christmas errands left to run, it may feel like a day with fewer than our usual 24 hours, too). For many of us, the lack of sunlight creeps into our bones and seeps into our hearts and our minds, and the dark tries to set up shop for the winter. Christmas is also a difficult time for those who have lost a loved one or become estranged from a family member or a close friend. For those sitting next to a hospital bed, or otherwise waiting with an ill loved one, the merriment and twinkling lights of the season can seem empty and even annoying.

If you find yourself sitting in a dark place, might I offer you a psalm of light and hope? It's a psalm a pastor friend of mine, Matt Ashburn, preached about a couple of weeks ago in a sermon titled "Needing Sonshine." This psalm is not one you normally think of as a Christmas psalm. But I think it's perfect for those struggling with the dark, perfect for looking toward the Light promised at Christmas.

Psalm 80
O give ear, Shepherd of Israel,
You who lead Joseph like a flock;
You who are enthroned above the cherubim, shine forth!
Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up Your power
And come to save us!
O God, restore us
And cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.

O Lord God of hosts,
How long will You be angry with the prayer of Your people?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
And You have made them to drink tears in large measure.
You make us an object of contention to our neighbors,
And our enemies laugh among themselves.
O God of hosts, restore us
And cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.

You removed a vine from Egypt;
You drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground before it,
And it took deep root and filled the land.
The mountains were covered with its shadow,
And the cedars of God with its boughs.
It was sending out its branches to the sea
And its shoots to the River.
Why have You broken down its hedges,
So that all who pass that way pick its fruit?
A boar from the forest eats it away
And whatever moves in the field feeds on it.

O God of hosts, turn again now, we beseech You;
Look down from heaven and see, and take care of this vine,
Even the shoot which Your right hand has planted,
And on the son whom You have strengthened for Yourself.
It is burned with fire, it is cut down;
They perish at the rebuke of Your countenance,
Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand,
Upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself.
Then we shall not turn back from You;
Revive us, and we will call upon Your name.
O Lord God of hosts, restore us;
Cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.


In Matt's sermon, he spoke of the psalmist's call to God to repent. You read that right. The psalmist is begging God to turn back toward His people, not because of any sin He has committed -- after all, as God, He is without sin -- but because His people feel like He has hidden from them. Likened to a vine tended carefully by a gardner, these people are starving for light. They are hungry for more, thirsty for more than the tears that have been their fill (v. 5).

Notice the psalmist pleading for the light of God's face to shine on them again. Three times: "Cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved." Through the light, we will be saved. The psalmist had a profound faith and an audacious hope -- one that freed him to plead with God to turn back to these desperate people. And by turning back to them, God and His light would restore them, heal them, and cause them to flourish again.

Friends, as you approach this Christmas, may you feel the warmth and the nourishing light from the face of God looking upon you. May you be reminded of His unfailing love for you, proven through the gift of Jesus. And may His love fill you with peace and brilliant light that overcomes whatever darkness you face.

I wish you a Christmas filled with peace and blessings and joy and laughter, but most of all, filled with His presence and His light.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Christmas tree psalm

                                                                < * >
                                                             LORD is
                                                          my shepherd,
                                                        I shall not want.
                                                  He makes me lie down
                                                in green pastures; He leads
                                          me beside still waters. He restores
                                         my soul; He guides me in the paths
                                       of righteousness for His name's sake.
                                     Even though I walk through the valley of
                                    the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for
                                You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they
                              comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the
                           presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head
                          with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy
                        will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the
                                                               of the
                                                             Psalm 23

'Tis the season to feel stressed out, to feel that Time cares little whether we have crossed off our to-do items for the day and definitely won't slow down to let us catch up. We can't tackle Time and make him give us more hours in each day. So instead, what if we focus on what we can change: our mindset.

I've shaped Psalm 23 into a Christmas tree here to help you think of it in a new way this season. The psalm tells me that because the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. In this season of so much want (both real and fabricated), the promise is true and bears repeating again until it sinks in: I shall not want. I shall not want. As we hurry about our Christmas preparations, let's cling to this Christmas tree psalm in the coming days. It promises much.

Because of His promise to give me rest in green pastures and beside quiet waters, I shall not want.

Because He is with me always, whether I am in the valley or in the presence of enemies, I shall not want.

There's a feast prepared and a dazzling home promised, and, therefore, I shall not want.

Remember these promises, my friends. Repeat the truth of this psalm to yourself during the long wait at the traffic signal that you always seem to catch as it's turning red, or the security line at the airport when the elderly couple in front of you has clearly not traveled since 9/11, or the line at the cash register that doesn't budge as fast lines around you disappear quickly.

Repeat the truth of this psalm during the shark-circling tactics looking for a place to park at the mall and while the screaming baby (yours or someone else's) distracts you from your shopping list.

Repeat the truth of this psalm while you visit the hospital or the graveside, a visit that leaves you feeling cold about celebrations and bells ringing and carols and laughter and merriment.

Repeat the truth, as often as it takes, until it transforms your thinking. And then, perhaps, you will find yourself wanting to repeat the sounding joy.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The power of paper

Back in March, I wrote about why I love paper and real books more than e-readers. In that post, I shared some of the artwork of a book artist, Brian Dettmer, who takes a scalpel to books and transforms them into works of art.

This past weekend, I got to see Dettmer's work in person at Pulse Miami, just one of many art festivals that took place in the Miami area as part of a larger celebration of art, Art Week Miami.

Now, I love art, and experiencing art is one of the ways my life flourishes. But I don't generally love ultra contemporary art, and since Pulse Miami is billed as a contemporary festival, I wasn't sure what to expect. As my husband and I walked through the expo halls, we were wowed by

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A different kind of Christmas tree

Tis the season when our thoughts turn to Christmas trees and mistletoe and glittery ornaments and garlands and wreaths and shopping and baking and ... this list could take up the whole page, but you get the idea.

Some of my neighbors already have their Christmas decorations up. I'm usually one who gets around to decorating the second, or sometimes third, week of December, probably because when I was growing up, we usually waited until after my brother's mid-December birthday to buy a tree and put up decorations. Or maybe it's just because I'm a shameless procrastinator.

Which camp are you in: the early decorators or the waiters? Whether you've had your tree up and decorated since before Thanksgiving or are just now starting to ponder whether to go with a real or fake tree this year, I bet you've got Christmas on your mind. And rightfully so, but I hope you're focusing on the best part of Christmas: the gift of Jesus' birth and life sacrificed for us. 

The Christian season of advent started this past Sunday, and my church is all decked out to celebrate: wreaths outside and in, a huge tree in the sanctuary and poinsettias all over the place. For the last several years, our preachers have put together sermon series to build on a particular theme for a few weeks at a time, and this year's advent series is called "The Christmas Tree: Scoundrels, Liars and the Perfect Child." During the weeks that lead up to Christmas, our preachers will tell about the family members who make up Jesus' family tree, based on the genealogy listed in Matthew 1. 

Take some time this week to read Matthew 1 for yourself, and see if it helps prepare your heart better for the season. Then, as you look at your own Christmas trees, think of those people from the Bible who formed the limbs and branches of Jesus' Christmas tree, maybe people who aren't that different from ones you find in your own family tree.

But there's another sort of Christmas tree I'd also like for you to consider, too, especially as you scramble to find the perfect gift for that person who already has everything. Heifer International sends out a catalog each year, usually filled with different animals you can "buy" for struggling villages around the world. This year, they're offering tree seedlings as a gift option, $60 for a a full complement of seedlings or $10 for a share of seedlings. If you have a little more to spend and want to include some animals in your gift, consider the Gardener's Basket, a gift that includes tree seedlings, rabbits, chickens and a bee hive.  The full basket is $170, and a share is $20. For each gift you give through Heifer, you'll receive cards to let family and friends know about this wonderful gift you have given in their honor.

Do you know family or friends who might appreciate a donation in their honor more than a material item under the Christmas tree? Or maybe you and your children can research the gift choices Heifer offers and choose one to buy together as a family.

Many times, the gifts we give at Christmas are forgotten or broken or maybe even exchanged by the end of January. But the gift of a different kind of Christmas tree is one that can change lives forever. Because of that, it will bless both the receiver and the giver.

I hope you'll consider this gift-giving option, and if you do, I hope you'll let me know about your decision here in the comments. And now, if you'll excuse me, I have some Christmas shopping to do.

Speaking of gifts
I almost forgot to announce the winner of last week's challenge! Thanks so much to all of you who shared your responses to this challenge, and also for those of you who tried to post responses but couldn't (blogspot can be so frustrating at times).

Anyway, I loved reading all of your responses and ended up drawing a name at random to win a copy of Ann Voskamp's book. Bev, you're the lucky winner!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Indescribable gifts

"Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" -- 2 Corinthians 9:15 (NKJV)

The Bible verse above is printed at the top of the page in my gratitude journal that I just finished filling in. Back in August, I challenged you to take a journey of gratitude with me and keep track of the blessings in your life for which you are grateful. Though today marks the official end of the challenge, I hope it won't bring an end to your list keeping.

I'm up to #297 in my journal. Much of today's list contains blessings from my adventure at Whole Foods a few hours ago. Yes, I braved a trip there the day before Thanksgiving. My favorite is #294: Whole Foods vegan pumpkin pie. Or maybe it's #295: A quick parking space find at Whole Foods the day before Thanksgiving.

I'm also grateful for getting to sit down for iced green tea with a dear friend yesterday (#286), as she shared with me how her own journey of gratitude has gone this month. She updated her

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

God's palette

"Aren't you the one who's supposed to be keeping a gratitude journal?" asked my dear friend on Sunday night. Yep, she was chiding me for a generally cranky attitude I had brought along for one of our rare and treasured coffee dates.

She was right to remind me that I needed to look for the positives in a situation that has me struggling. I'm not one who adapts quickly to change, and so when my husband's work travel increased exponentially a few weeks ago, I began struggling to accept what will become the new reality of our life together. But instead of focusing on the positives, I was too busy pouting because I felt like someone pulled a rug out from under me.

So this week, I've dug deeper to add to my gratitude journal and to change my mindset, and I cannot help but see God's blessings all around me. One of my favorite blessings is God's palette in November. And so yesterday, I got out and took some pictures to share with you -- pictures that may help explain why Autumn is my favorite season:

Yesterday's lunchtime view
This beauty is a tree in my backyard. It has leaves of yellow, gold and green -- some leaves with all three colors on them in striking, interesting patterns. Because the weather was warm and

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Greater things than these

Last Friday's Candorville comic strip caught my attention. I had just come upstairs to my home office and was reading some comics online before working on chapter four of my book. Chapter four focuses on how simple events can inspire sudden faith, in this case, Jesus recognizing Nathanael from when he had seen him sitting under a fig tree several days earlier. The very same story Lemont is telling to Susan in the strip.

Lemont tells this story as he might tell a joke. And I can understand why, because this story makes me laugh, too. Just not for exactly the same reason as Lemont.

You see, Lemont leaves out what I think is the best line, the last part of Jesus' remark to Nathanael in John 1:50: "Jesus answered and said to him, 'Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.'"

I imagine Jesus’ response today would go something like this: “Seriously? You believe in Me just because I saw you sitting under that tree the other day? You ain’t seen nothing yet!” Jesus knew that during the short years of his ministry, He would encounter others with harder hearts who would witness His most miraculous works and still refuse to believe. So it must have refreshed Him – and likely caused him to chuckle to himself – that a person could believe for so little a reason as the fig tree.

You will see greater things than these
Nathanael didn't need to witness spectacular miracles to believe in Jesus. He had come to meet Jesus at the invitation of his trusted friend Philip, who had already proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah they had been seeking. It was enough that Jesus recognized him -- knew him for a true student of God's Word -- simply from seeing him studying under a fig tree days earlier. Can you imagine believing in Christ for such a simple reason as that?

Most of us experience simple moments of faith, quiet encounters with Christ that transform us in small ways and remind us of who He is. Have you experienced such a moment that further cemented your faith? Maybe God has answered a prayer you desperately flung up to heaven. Or a moment of beauty has taken your breath away -- light streaming through trees of orange and scarlet and gold on a fall morning, or the ocean's lapping at the beach filling you with peace. Or maybe you catch a glimpse of God's presence in the delighted laughter of a child.

For my faith walk, it's daily moments like these that bond me -- again and again -- to God. Each day brings its own wonders, not anything necessarily spectacular or miraculous, but reminders, nonetheless, of God's presence in my life. And each one points to the promise Jesus made to Nathanael: "You will see greater things than these."

I'd love to hear the simply, daily events that inspire you and draw you more closely into experiencing the presence of God. Or maybe God has drawn you to Him with a more miraculous event. Either way, I'd encourage you to share your stories here. Together, they'll tell the story of the greater things we will one day see.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Gratitude -- not just for the fourth Thursday in November anymore

For the past few months, I've been challenging you to keep a gratitude journal, a list of everything -- big, small and in between -- that makes you stop and give thanks. In case you missed the challenge, you can read about it at the bottom of this post from August.

We are three weeks away from Thanksgiving (gulp) here in the United States. That little fact may stress you out more than spur thankful thoughts right at the moment, but I hope it will encourage you to spend some time thinking about all you have to be grateful for. Perhaps pondering those blessings in your life will lead to writing them down as a way of keeping a running tab of how rich your life is.

My gratitude journal and favorite pen
I don't write in my gratitude journal every day, though I could if I had more discipline about it. So don't worry if this isn't yet a daily habit for you either. Just get started, and see where your journal takes you.

If you don't want to buy a journal or physically write out a list, try a daily post on Facebook or Twitter about something you're grateful for. Or record your thoughts on your smart phone. I have a friend who has committed to posting a daily gratitude on Facebook for every day of November, and I'm eager to hear from her at the end of the month about her experience keeping this list. The same goes for the rest of you. I'm eager to hear whether keeping a list of what you're grateful for

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Forgiving Wal-mart, cont.

Can you stick with me for one more story in the Wal-mart saga? I think this will likely be the last of them.

Yesterday, I gave up -- at least for now -- on getting a copy of my friend Jerel's book Spirit Fighter from Wal-mart. But I made peace with the store after a surprisingly good customer service experience with them.

Up to yesterday, the count was four Wal-marts I've visited in the last few weeks to find Jerel's book. I had heard from a reliable source (Jerel himself) that one of the Wal-marts I had visited

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Taken for granted or taken with gratitude

We've been having a conversation about Wal-mart and forgiveness the last few weeks, and I promise to come back to that topic when I have more to report.

But today, my thoughts are more occupied with the things I take for granted. My hands, for instance.

Yesterday while I was out running, I took a tumble on some loose gravel and ended up sliding along the asphalt for what seemed like an eternity -- probably because it happened in slow motion. I sat up and saw the palm of my right hand covered in blood, asphalt crumbs and dirt, and felt pain along the left side of my body (shoulder, hand, hip, lower leg and foot).

A very kind, concerned driver who saw me fall stopped to make sure I was okay. I told her I

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Forgiving Wal-mart

If you had asked me back in February when I started this blog whether Wal-mart would be a hot topic on my blog someday, I would have laughed. But love the big-box store or hate it, you haven't been shy about sharing your opinion.

To respond to Chris' request to see some of the email and Facebook responses to last week's post, I'm adding a sample here. I had meant to share the email I got from a close friend giving detailed advice to forgive Wal-mart. Her answer was the one that moved me the most. But not everyone encouraged breaking the ban. You'll see that there's a pretty sharp division:

  • "Hey! Loved the blog. Loved the steadfastness of your walmart ban even more. Wow."
  • "Just forgive Wal-mart already!" (straight from my mom's mouth when I visited her earlier this week)
  • "Ha...nice blog post. A great reminder of why I never shop there."
Here's the email from my friend:
"My advice would be to consider shopping at Walmart again as an act of forgiveness. You

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A tale of three Wal-marts

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. ... Oh, right. That's been done already. Do you mind if I tell you about my day instead?

Thanks to those of you who commented on last week's post about jealousy. At the end of that post, I asked for advice about whether to break a 14+ year ban of Wal-mart to buy Jerel Law's new (first) book there. Wal-mart has exclusive rights to carry the book for 90 days, and I found out from Jerel's blog that it may be April of next year before the book is available elsewhere.

Several of you who emailed me or posted a comment said I should forgive Wal-mart and go buy the book. So today, I drove to Wal-mart to break my ban. I left empty-handed.

It felt odd to me to walk in to the store, but the greeters were there, and they smiled and said, "Hello." I smiled and said, "Hello" back. I got my bearings and found the small book section, consisting of one side of an aisle, and one set of shelves along the back of the store.

I was still excited about breaking the ban for a good cause and eagerly scanned the shelves

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Defeating the green-eyed monster

I promised in last week's post to talk with you about jealousy today. But first, would you mind a quick update? Both twigs of the baby elm tree have already sprouted new leaves, and I'm hopeful the wire cage and the Irish Spring soap, along with the beginnings of some lovely fall weather, will all keep that little tree thriving.

Let's take a look at where that little tree is growing:

^ The little tree is growing right there ...
in the shadow of its much larger parent tree.
You really can't even see the little tree, can you? It's so small and easy to miss. If you get down to the tree's level, here's what you'll see:

The view looking up from the little tree
If trees had thoughts and hopes and dreams, can you imagine that little tree looking up at its parent tree all day, wishing to grow up to be just as strong and beautiful? Do you think it's a little

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Time for Irish Spring

No ... Ireland hasn't relocated to the southern hemisphere. It's just entering autumn at this time of year. But this week, I realized it was time ...

What do you remember most about this soap's commercials?
Now, before you get really worried, I do shower regularly, and I use a less pungent soap than Irish Spring. But do you know where Irish Spring can be quite useful? In the garden.

As it turns out, deer can't stand the smell of Irish Spring soap, and its shavings keep the pesky critters away from tender plants. If you are unfamiliar with the smell, then next time you're at a store that carries Irish Spring, pick up a packet and smell it. But keep the shrink wrap on to soften the olfactory blow that Irish Spring delivers. You'll understand why deer stay away from it.

Despite my own feelings about its smell, I wish I had spread the odiferous green stuff out in the garden sooner this year.

Future tree or deer treat?
A few weeks ago, my husband discovered a volunteer sapling, growing up in the shadow of a larger lacebark elm tree we had planted several years ago. Each fall, the elm sheds seeds

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Follow-up photos for a friend

Hello, friends -- don't worry! I'll be posting as usual tomorrow, but in the meantime, I wanted to post two pictures for a friend who has asked for follow-up photos from two posts. Ask and ye shall receive!

In Worries on the road less traveled, I mentioned my dog sporting her pack:

My pack dog, part chocolate lab, part Tasmanian devil

And in last week's the blazing in of fall, I shared a photo of a gorgeous fall tree. My friend wanted to see the less-than-ideal photo from the day before, and so here it is:

Same tree, different light, windier day
I realize now -- upon closer inspection -- that the sun was out after all, but the tree looks washed out and isn't reflecting in the more turbulent waters. Do you agree that it's the lesser photo?

Come back tomorrow, when we return to regularly-scheduled programming.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The blazing in of autumn

For those of you who have followed me through the change of seasons, you may remember that I don't totally love summer, despite its gardening wonders, bountiful fruit and golden lining. But autumn? Quite simply ... I love it.

Here's just one of the reasons why:

A favorite tree at one of my favorite spots in the whole world.
Do you know where this is?
All of summer's lovely flowers can't come close to the stirring of my soul when I look on this tree in fall. It's as if I've held my breath to survive the heat and humidity and mosquitoes of summer and, when I see the promise of this tree, I can finally let the breath go.

I can't wait to visit it again soon and see whether this fall will repeat this beautiful image -- the brilliant orange blazing in the sunlight and the calm water reflecting its fire.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

When the acorn rolls away from the tree

I was at an appointment this morning with a doctor who is always conversational and tries to keep the visits light and fun. Today's conversation veered in the direction of faith and religion, after I told her I'd been busy working on a book about trees in the Bible.

She spoke first of her son, a pre-teen who has announced he doesn't believe in "all this God business." Maybe he's just going through a rebellious stage and trying to hit his parents where it will hurt most, but she's worried that he may end up like two of her brothers who grew up going to church and now, as adults, don't have faith.

She went on then to speak of her daughter, away at college, and her struggle with how hard to push her daughter about finding a church at college. She decided that she'd mention it once and then try hard not to nag or ask again, wanting her daughter to make her own choice about finding a faith community as an adult.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The ray of sunshine never lost

Hi, Friends,

I'm posting a bit earlier in the day than usual so you can jump on a limited-time opportunity to see two of my favorite Christian authors in a replay of a Webcast they aired last night. From noon today (Wednesday, 9/7/11) through the end of tomorrow (ET?), you can tune in to learn from Lysa TerKeurst and Ann Voskamp about saying yes to God. And really, who can't benefit from a reinforcement of that message?

Sometimes God asks us to do something that is simple or fun or easy. Other times, the clouds roll in. Excuses mount up. Our daily to-do lists to trump what God has called us to do. Sometimes, saying yes to God can mean a long, long wait to see results, and that can be truly frustrating.

I'm in the midst of an obedience test from God, and at times, I want to give up and try something else. After all, if I'm following God's call, shouldn't I see immediate, fabulous outcomes? No, not always. I had a great reminder of that when I opened my church bulletin this past Sunday (thanks, Rumple Memorial), and I'd like to share it with you:

"No ray of sunshine is ever lost but the green which it awakens needs time to sprout, and it is not always given the sower to see the harvest. All work that is worth anything is done in faith." -- Albert Schweitzer

Wow. I have read that a number of times since Sunday morning, and each time, it stops me in my tracks. No, wait. It doesn't stop me. It moves me along the tracks.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Isn't there an app for that?

Confession time, again: I'm addicted to my iPhone. But I don't have a ton of apps. I have exactly 26 apps on my phone, including three game apps (no, Angry Birds isn't one of them), a dictionary app and all of the apps that come preset on the phone.

Apple's web site touts 425,000 apps for iPhone. So no wonder they've trademarked the phrase, "There's an app for that."

I got really excited about one of those 425,000 apps the other day. My Real Simple magazine this month told of a free app called Leafsnap that could help me identify trees using pictures of their leaves. Knowing how I love trees, are you surprised that I'd be happy to download that app?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A second look at worries on the road

Last week, I wrote about worrying -- and why it's not only needless but also shows a lack of faith. I also offered you a challenge to begin keeping a list of things you're grateful for. Little did I know that I would need the message I had shared with you last week to be firmly in my mind and heart by the end of the week.

Someone very dear to me took an ambulance ride to the hospital on Friday morning, not for health problems that had plagued her much of the summer, but for something new, something scarier, something life-threatening. But she was in good hands, in God's hands. And she got to the hospital in time.

As I walked to and from her room each day, the blur of activity in the hallways dizzied me. But the experience filled me with items for my gratitude list. I hope you don't mind me sharing some of them with you.

These last few days, I have found myself grateful for ...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Worries on the road less traveled

Do you worry a lot? I do. I know, I know -- God tells us over and over again in the Bible not to worry, but I think I was born worried, so worried, in fact, that I came out six weeks early to fit in more worrying.

This past weekend, I had a lot of worries to face on what should have been a blissful outing. My husband, dog and I went for a hike to measure a trail for my husband's web site. My husband has a passion for running and numbers and helping others and sharing his story of faith, and he has combined all of that into a great site with maps and accurate wheel measurements of runnable trails in the northwestern North Carolina mountains.

I've taken wheel in hand to measure a couple of trails for him. And I've accompanied him on other trails as he did the measuring. Until this weekend, the trails were easy ones. Wide, well-maintained, steep at times, but still easy to walk.

This weekend's trail was different, and I knew enough to ask before I agreed to accompany him whether there would be stream crossings. You see, I really don't love stream crossings. I never have. I'm not coordinated, and something about stepping across slippery, wet rocks works on my overactive imagination in the worst kind of way.

My husband told me there would be one creek to cross but assured me it would be an easy crossing. Turns out, I didn't need to worry about that crossing. He was right. There were several stones sitting sturdily up out of the water for me to step across.

What I neglected to ask about, though, was another worry I face on hikes: crossing over downed trees. Somewhere, some wise or possibly mean person filled my little-girl head with fears about snakes and spiders waiting on the other side of downed trees to bite me.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Adopted into a great family tree

My parents celebrate their 50th anniversary later this week, but we celebrated the golden event with a party for extended family this past weekend. We had fun, and most of us ate too much barbecue and banana pudding.

Despite my parents' request for "no gifts," we all chipped in for one very special art piece to give them -- a family tree with paper leaves signed by as many family members as we could track down:

The anniversary celebration -- and the family tree gift -- reminded me how blessed I am. You see, I'm adopted. So my family tree could have looked completely different.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Can I tell you about my BFF?

Last week, I wrote to you about the unmistakeable sign God sent me at a writers' conference I attended the weekend before. He was telling me to "Forgive," by placing that word in hard, cold metal form on a table with my name pointing to it. If you haven't had a chance to read the post, you may want to check it out before reading on.

This week, I'd like to tell you about a second sign: the name of God on the paper where conference organizers had taped my name. As I mentioned last week, a prayer room was lined with tables where we could find our names attached to a sheet of paper with one of the names of God, such as Adonai, El-Shaddai, Elohim, and Yahweh. Here's what I saw:

My name taped to the top of this page;
Jehovah-Shammah, the Lord my companion

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The unmistakeable sign

I couldn't ignore it even if I had wanted to. The sign was so obviously for me. I knew my name would be there.

Have you ever asked God to send you a sign? And followed up with, "And please, God, make it an unmistakeable one?" The movie "Bruce Almighty" has a scene that speaks to any of us who have ever asked God for a clear signal of what we should do. I can relate to Bruce begging for a sign from God and then ignoring the very clear signs He sends. Here's a clip, just in case you haven't seen the movie.

I attended She Speaks this past weekend, a fantastic conference for Christian women who want to write or speak or develop a women's ministry to share God's messages of love, hope and healing to the world.

I had prayed and prayed and prayed some more, and my friends and family had surrounded me in prayer leading up to the conference, too. I hadn't especially prayed for any signs, though. But God still smacked me upside the head with one anyway. Unlike Bruce Almighty, I didn't miss it. I couldn't.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A house as lovely as a tree?

My neighborhood lost another stately oak tree today in the rush to tear down small, old houses and build big, new houses. 

Seeing the stump of the tree reminded me of a poem I love, one which you may think is trite and overused. But I'd like to share it with you anyway:

by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair; 
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

A confession: My own hands aren't completely clean in the matter of tear downs, as I live in a fairly new house that stands on a lot where a teeny old house once stood. My husband bought our house well after it was built. And so I'm more wistful than morally outraged about another tree down. The people making the decision to cut the tree will be my neighbors soon, and the Bible tells us we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

So, there you have it. An uncomfortable dichotomy in my life. And yet, I can say with confidence that:

I know that I shall never see 
A house as lovely as a tree.
Houses are built by fools like me,
But only God can build a tree.

Have an opinion about the loss of trees, perhaps in your own neighborhood or town? Or want to share your own favorite poem about trees? Let's hear it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The blob in my vase

I just had to share this cool moment with you. A short time ago, I walked by a vase that was holding two gladiolas (gladioli?) from my garden. These were flowers I had cut and brought into the house at least four days ago.

In case you don't know what gladiolas are, here are some sample pictures. I'm not in any way endorsing this nursery. I just like their pictures of glads.

They look like a sword filled with flowers one above another. One problem is that they keep tipping over because they're so heavy. When the stems snap completely in two, I bring them inside and put them in a vase.

But here's the issue I'm having. Ants love glads. They invade the flowers by the hundreds, or so it seems when I bring a glad inside. As I walked by the vase holding the glads, I noticed a dark blob floating on top of the water in the vase. So I stopped to check it out.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Be still, my soul

Today's post title has been my marching order to myself lately, along with my prayer flung up to Heaven. For many reasons, my soul has not been still lately.

Just one of the reasons for my jitters: I'm working on a huge project that's in God's hands, but as the deadline approaches, I find that I'm struggling to leave it in His capable hands. So I'm reminding myself of the absolute necessity of letting Him lead me, instead of me trying to lead myself. And one of the best ways I know to do that is through music.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"I'm not dead yet"

The title of today's post is best read in a British accent, a la Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In that movie, there's a scene set in the Middle Ages in which men are hauling carts through a village calling, "Bring out your dead. Bring out your dead." The plague has hit, and the men are hauling away the dead. Now, in case you have been hiding under a rock for the last several decades or irreverent, comedic farce isn't your preferred movie genre, you need to understand that nothing about Monty Python is serious. So try to imagine the humor of the scene that ensues:

A man is trying to get his elderly relative onto the cart, despite the fact that the elderly man, though frail, is still very much alive. He keeps protesting, "I'm not dead yet." But the younger man doesn't want to miss the opportunity of the carts coming through the village and have to wait until the next one.

Well, that phrase, "I'm not dead yet" has been running through my head all morning, thanks to a visit from an agricultural extension agent to check out some dead and ailing trees at our place in the mountains.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The green stick tree

Some of you may have wondered what kind of tree is pictured at the top of my blog. It's called a Palo Verde tree, and it's the state tree of Arizona.

I took several photos of this tree when I visited the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix three years ago, including the one in the blog's header and this one below:

A Palo Verde tree at the Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix
The tree transfixed me. Born and bred in the southeast, I'm accustomed to tall pines, giant oaks and maples, and abundant magnolias, cherry trees and more. But what had me spellbound about this tree was its green trunk. I had never seen such a color on a tree trunk in my life. Flower stems are supposed to be green, sure, but tree trunks? In my part of the world, tree trunks are brown.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Lady Baltimore

Last August, when I took my in-laws to the local farmer's market, they bought my husband and me a lovely hibiscus, called a "Lady Baltimore," for our garden. The seller at the market promised that it's a perennial in this area. I'll admit to being skeptical at the time.

By the end of my in-laws' visit, though, the plant looked like it wouldn't even live to make it out of the pot and into the ground. But it did live, and I was delighted when it bloomed several times last August.

Although it was a single stalk last year, the seller promised it would grow back more bush-like this year, with multiple stalks. I was just happy when one stalk poked up through the ground this spring and started sprouting leaves and then buds. I've spent many mornings since the first sign of green giving it ample water to grow tall and strong.

Today, the first bloom opened. I had seen just a hint of fuchsia yesterday evening, but this morning, the bloom was open and full and the new hangout for one very thrilled bee (too shy for photos):

The Lady Baltimore
I'm doubly pleased that it came back this year, because I had picked out this variety in particular for its name. One of my favorite aunts -- who lived just outside of Baltimore for my entire life -- died in March 2010. When I saw the "Lady Baltimore" name on this particular hibiscus, I knew it was the right one for me. It would remind me of my in-laws' kindness but also remind me of my aunt, who was always interested in what I was doing and always one of my biggest fans.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A place where people love their trees and leaves

Two weekends ago, I visited St. Paul, Minnesota for the first time. I had a wonderful time seeing the sights, including the stunning St. Paul Cathedral and railroad magnate James Hill's house on Summit Avenue.

Although my husband and I apparently brought the heat of the South with us when we came, there was still a stubborn remnant of what had been a 60-foot pile of snow that the plows built in the Sears parking lot over the winter. The St. Paul Pioneer Press even covered the story of the snow pile in the paper, which is how I knew what I was looking at when we happened to drive by the Sears parking lot later that day. My southern-girl mind can't quite wrap itself around the idea of snow surviving a 90-degree day. But then, I'm also used to snow being white, not black from road scrapings and other dirt and debris that made up the remnant of St. Paul's snow.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A letter to high school graduates

Two very special young people in my life have just graduated from high school. Both are heading away to college -- one across the country after spending two years at a boarding school near home and the other, a five-hour drive from home, his first time leaving the nest.

Because there's so much I'd like to say to them and never enough time with them sitting still to listen, I've decided to write a letter to them here. If it resonates with you, share it with the young people in your life. I also invite you to add your own thoughts and advice for high school grads in the comments section.

Dear Z & K, (and M and C and A and all the rest of you!)

I have absolutely loved watching you grow up -- from the days I held you held you as newborns to now, when it's a quick hug and you're gone. You have grown into a strength and beauty and brilliance that shines on all those around you.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

You're taping what to my foot? Ramblings from a first-time MRI

I had a lot of surprises in store for my first ever MRI today, but the biggest surprise was the Vitamin E pill the assistant taped to the bottom of my foot to mark the place where I feel the most pain. Apparently, it helps the radiologist know where to look when reading the MRI without messing up the reading. Seriously?

I never went to med school, but I'd like to think that a doctor could read the MRI of my foot without needing a pointer in the form of a pill taped to my foot to identify the problem area. It also made me wonder if they could miss other problem areas -- there was no vitamin E taped to the spot of second-most pain, but what if that's the real source of my pain?

Being nervous about something so new and strange, I did a bit of browsing online yesterday. My only experience with MRIs before yesterday's reading was with the TV show "House." If you watch the show, you know that dreadful things typically happen to the patient in the MRI machine. Convulsions, seizures, heart attacks, hallucinations. I figured nothing that dramatic would happen to me, but I still wanted to know what to expect in a real-world MRI.

There are some really good children's hospital videos about MRIs online -- I highly recommend them for your first MRI -- whether you're a kid or not. So I thought I was pretty calm driving to my appointment. One of the comments online said to imagine yourself as the Dalai Lama getting an MRI. Another said to "find your happy place." I was ready to practice serenity and calm breathing and had several happy places in mind.

I didn't know if I'd need an injection beforehand, and so I was grimly bracing for that (fortunately, the Vitamin E was all I needed). I'm a chicken when it comes to needles.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Summer's golden lining

I've got a confession: I don't really love summer. Or more specifically, I don't love summer where I live. It's hot, ridiculously humid, and it's one long mosquito fiesta from May (sometimes April) through October (sometimes November).

As a runner, I'm an odd bird because I'd much prefer to run in 20 degree weather than in 80s and higher -- and trust me, there are a lot more days here that are above 80 than below 20. I know some runners who won't even run outside in the winter but relish a warm July day to head out into the sun. Not me. There are only so many clothes a person can take off and still run outside.

I'm actually not running these days anyway. I've been sidelined with an injury for the last four weeks, and I'm looking at possibly two more weeks without running. If any of you are or know runners who have been sidelined, then you'll know that climbing-the-walls feeling I'm fighting every day. And feel free to send my husband sympathy cards for having to deal with my general grumpiness at being among the walking wounded. He definitely deserves them. Just don't send the kind with glitter -- he's not a fan.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Missing the forest

I've been hard at work this week on an art project that will (I hope) be a gift for one of my nephews. He's graduating from high school next week, and I'm a very proud aunt, despite having nothing to do with his success in high school. In fact, one time when I was visiting, he asked me how much math I had taken in school (I minored in it in college), and I told him I had forgotten most of the math I had learned, which, unfortunately, meant that I was useless when it came to helping him with the particular algebra-trig or calculus problem he was working on.

But I digress, and I don't have time to digress. The gift is something for his college dorm, unless it ends up looking like something a 1st grader made (with apologies to any 1st graders reading this -- I'm sure your art projects are fabulous).

Because I procrastinated in getting started on the project, I'm less than a week away from having to finish it and am spending several hours each day working on the tiny little details that make up the whole work. I'm sure I'm learning a great lesson in patience, but I also find myself wondering whose dumb idea it was to plan out such an complicated piece. Oh, yeah. Mine.

At the end of each day, though, when I've had enough of working on a small area and am feeling a bit frustrated with the whole thing, I step back and look at the whole work. It's slowly coming together ... and I think it'll end up looking pretty decent. At least, decent enough that I hope my nephew won't just say thanks and then bury it in the back corner of his closet at home.

All of that has gotten me thinking about the expression about missing the forest for the trees. My art project is just one example where it's so easy to get bogged down in details and not see a whole thing for what it is. And it has me wondering how often I miss other forests for the trees.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Blueberry blues

I'm tired of buying frozen blueberries, and though I know fresh blueberry season is right around the corner, I'm impatient for inexpensive, fresh blueberries to arrive at a store near me. Right now, I could buy a teeny container of fresh blueberries for $10. I think I'll wait. In the meantime, this longing for blueberries takes me back to a time when I was a child, more "worst of times" than "best of times" in my memory bank.

When I was growing up, one of my next-door neighbors had a line of blueberry bushes that grew along his driveway, separating our yard from his, and each year, I greatly anticipated the time when the vines would fill with ripe berries. I'd go over, ring the doorbell and ask permission to pick some of the berries for myself and my family. I'd gleefully fill up a bowl with them.

One year, however, when I rang the doorbell, the answer was, "No, not yet. I want to make a blueberry pie for my husband first. Then you can come over and pick some." I walked away from the door, feeling sad that my plans for the afternoon had just been thwarted.

Then, I don't know what possessed me. There was no snake poking its head out from the bushes calling me over, but there might as well have been.

A neighborhood friend, several years older than I, was waiting on my deck to hear the answer. In the (not so very) long walk from my neighbor's front door to my back deck, something took hold of me. "She said we could pick some." So off we went, bowls in hand.

We had a great time picking blueberries that afternoon, and I'm sure plenty made their way into our mouths rather than the bowls. I really don't know why I didn't think I'd get caught. I'm pretty sure consequences didn't even cross my mind.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dancing on the inside

My husband I spent the weekend at MerleFest, an awesome music festival in the North Carolina foothills with a wide range of music: bluegrass, blues, rock, country, folk, gospel. My back has let me know that it's not as young as it used to be, and toting around a backpack for four days and sitting on a blanket to listen to music isn't as acceptable to it as it used to be. Though I still feel quite young, my back is telling me that I can't sit in front of a computer long today. But I'm so excited about the music I got to hear over the weekend that I have to share it with you.

Music has so many different powers and can evoke such a wide range of emotions. Here are just a few of the ways that music moves me (emotionally and/or physically):

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Hatfields and McCoys in me

Now before you start worrying -- I'm not confessing to a violent murder (or pig theft) with this week's title, but I am confessing to a flaw in my character: a stubborn unwillingness to let go of past wrongs. While I come by the stubbornness honestly (I think my folks could easily point out stubborn streaks in the family tree), I'm pretty much alone in my ability to hold a grudge -- at least among my closest family members.

My struggle to forgive is not something I'm sure I want to air publicly, but Easter has convicted me to write about it anyway. Easter is that wonderful, joyous holy day of the year when we celebrate Christ's victory over the grave and the sacrifice he made to save us all.

His death on that wooden cross wiped the slate clean for all of us. His resurrection gives us hope of our own salvation. We are a forgiven people of God.

We are forgiven. And we are to forgive.
Just as we are forgiven, we are to go out and forgive those who hurt us. For a biblical reminder of this, check out the Lord's prayer in Matthew 6 and Luke 11: "And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us" (Luke 11:4).

In recent months, my struggle to forgive some deep hurts has been difficult, especially because the hurt came from within my own church family, a family I have been part of my whole life. Hence my reluctance to even discuss it.

Aren't Christians all supposed to love each other and greet each other joyfully every time they see each other? And aren't we all supposed to join hands and sing Kumbaya? And in general put on a "Pollyanna" front to the world?

Fortunately not! However, for some reason, the world has created that stereotype of us, and so when the Church (big C, institution of Christian faith) fails in some very public way, non-Christians point to those examples to show that Christianity must not really work and churches must be filled with fake people and hypocrites. My argument to that is that being Christians doesn't make us perfect, but it should make us want to be better human beings.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Weeds or Treasure

I spent the last week and a half in California on a whirlwind vacation with my husband, where we tried to pack in lots of different activities and destinations during our time there. One of my favorite stops was Yosemite, a place neither of us had visited before, mercifully still open despite threats of an impending government shutdown.

Talk about huge trees and waterfalls beyond my comprehension! If you have never been, go (and I say this to you no matter where you live in the world). Yosemite surpasses all of its hype. April means early spring there, and the waterfalls are competing to outdo one another with their flow of snow melt. The massive sequoias and grand boulders made me feel smaller than I've ever felt.

While at Yosemite, I found a quote from John Muir, conservationist and national parks champion, that I wanted to share with you:

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
Nature's peace will flow into you as the sunshine flows
into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness
into you, and the storms their energy, while cares
will drop off like autumn leaves.

We didn't have storms while we there (and fortunately saw no bears either), but I definitely felt nature's peace filling me as cares dropped off. Well ... except for that nagging fear about seeing bears.

Before even getting home, though, those cares started building back up. While we were away, we heard reports of devastating tornadoes through our city and state. I knew from phone calls, texts and emails back home that our friends and family were safe and that our house had not been damaged, but I also knew to expect some cleaning up when we got back.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Hi, folks,

I'm neglecting my computer while I recharge my batteries. Look for a new post next week, and in the meantime, I hope you find a few ways this week to recharge your batteries, too.

I'd love to hear what recharges you.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

High stakes

I wasn't planning to blog about trees this week, but then we had a storm come through overnight with lots of wind and rain, and this morning, a cherry tree we planted just a couple of years ago was leaning over far enough that I was afraid it would fall over and die.

This has already been a rough Spring for plants in my garden. Varmints (chipmunks, moles, voles ... take your pick) claimed a camellia bush -- one that had been fairly young but thriving -- and yet another butterfly bush. It's enough to discourage this gardener. And truth be told, I have been channeling my inner Bill-Murray-in-Caddyshack, wondering just exactly where I might find squirrel- and bunny-shaped putty explosives.

So when I saw the cherry tree atilt, I headed straight to the store, not for explosives but for something to use as a stake for the tree. I also called my dad for help. I figured this would be a four-hand project, and his calm demeanor rubbing off on me wouldn't hurt, either.

The cherry tree now has a stake supporting it, one that will help the tree recover over the next year before it should be strong enough to stand on its own again. And that stake got me to thinking about how we sometimes need someone else's support to survive our own storms in life.

Who's there to pick you up?
The Bible says this about weathering life's storms:

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to pick him up." -- Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NIV)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Standing still

I haven't had much time lately to be still, which may be why I am really loving yoga lately. It's a time to be still (more or less) and stretch and breathe deeply. As a runner, I've found yoga to be an indispensable way to keep my muscles flexible. As a Christian, I've found it to be a time that I can spend in prayer with God.

I took a yoga class a few years ago at my church, and the instructor (a Christian friend of mine) always closed our sessions with the first part of this verse:

"'Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.'" -- Psalm 46:10 (NIV)

I love the way she broke it down:

"Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know.
Be still.

When I start rushing around -- even when it's work I'm supposed to do for God -- I often find myself craving "still" time. My yoga instructor's words, and the verse that inspires them, often run through my head during these busy moments -- a good reminder that if I don't take time to be still, I'm likely to miss out on God's quiet directions to me. And I'm likely to get too exhausted to finish the work ahead very well.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"It's a question of discipline."

I was at a Borders bookstore yesterday, wandering through what remained of its store closing sale and fighting off the blues as I mourned the loss of a decent chain bookstore and wondered what would happen to all the store's employees.

I was surprised -- because the store was so picked over already -- to find a 60th anniversary copy of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince, one of my all-time favorite books, and I simply couldn't resist bringing it home.

If you haven't read it, you should. It'll take you one sitting to get through the whole book, but its messages will stay with you far longer. I don't really think it's a children's book, although that is typically how bookstores categorize it. For those of you who have read it, what do you think: more for children or for those of us who were once children and have perhaps forgotten it? (You gotta read the book's dedication to get that reference.)

In one passage, the little prince is explaining life on his very small planet, where baobab seeds threaten to grow out of control every day. He insists to the narrator that:

It's a question of discipline ... When you've finished washing and dressing
each morning, you must tend your planet. You must be sure you pull up
the baobabs regularly ... Sometimes there's no harm in postponing your
work until later. But with baobabs, it's always a catastrophe. (pp. 15-16)

Get the book, and you'll see from the narrator's illustration the havoc that unchecked baobabs can wreak on a small planet. More important, though, is that we take away the message about discipline and the dangers of procrastination.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Springing forward

The expression "Spring forward" has always bemused me. I'm not a person who leaps from bed each morning ready to greet the day with enthusiasm and energy. So I always find this first week after we change our clocks to be a troubling one. On the one hand, I'm thrilled that it stays light later. But I definitely don't enjoy having lost the light in the morning or the feeling that it's going to take me another month to catch up on that lost hour of sleep. "Spring forward" no doubt is supposed to connote cheerfulness and pep and maybe even dancing through meadows of wild flowers, none of which I want to do at what my body feels like is an hour earlier than my eyes should be open.

What does energize me about this week, though, are the flowers and trees that are blooming. Check out the view I get to see these days as I go about my day:

The picture doesn't do justice to the beauty along this very busy road (I had limited vantage points where I could take the picture while also avoiding vehicles hurtling by at ridiculous speeds). However, in early Spring each year, this line of large and small tulip magnolia trees -- along with some large pear trees around the curve -- make a very busy road much more lovely than it might otherwise be. Following up this showy Spring display, crape myrtles will bloom in the median in equally magnificent fashion.

Isaiah mentions trees -- and other elements of nature -- breaking out in praise:

"For you will go out with joy and be led forth with peace; The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands." -- Isaiah 55:12 (NASB)

The gorgeous profusion of blooms could very well be these tulip trees' way of breaking out in praise and clapping their hands. I'm grateful for them and for their reminder that God does want me to "Spring forward" when I praise Him.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Beware the Tree of Death

My husband ran a trail marathon at our local state park this past weekend, and I went out to cheer him -- and the other runners -- on. The marathon organizers had put mile markers out, as well as other signs of encouragement or warning. The one I saw as I was walking back to the finish line said, "Welcome to Cemetery Hill." You might think that's a discouraging sign or a word of warning, but it's the last big climb before the finish, and an old family cemetery sits at the top of the hill.

After the race, Chris and I were talking about the signs, and he mentioned one that has really stuck with me: "Beware the Tree of Death." Now, before all you Harry Potter fans head out to the park and start searching for the real, live Whomping Willow tree, let me explain.

Trees can definitely be a runner's friend, providing shade on a hot day, a good prop for stretching out, a back rest after you're done and need to sit for a bit, or even a privacy barrier when, ahem, nature calls. But a tree's roots sticking up from the ground can range from a mere nuisance to downright danger, especially on narrow trails like some in this race. That's what the sign was cautioning: Keep your eyes on the ground ahead as you run through here, or you'll find yourself at eye-level with the ground before you know it. Apparently this tree's gnarly roots are such a tripping hazard that they warrant a warning sign.

The Tree of Death got me thinking back to the Bible. There's a Tree of Life at the beginning (Genesis) and end (Revelation) of the Bible, and I'll talk more of that tree another time. There isn't a Tree of Death, though there are plenty of dead or dying trees throughout the Bible.

Isaiah warns of a foolish carpenter who cuts down a tree for good uses (wood to create a fire to warm himself and cook food) but then makes a terrible mistake of carving the remaining wood into an idol.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

You can't do this with your e-reader!

As promised, I'm continuing this week's discussion about paper and my love of it, especially when it's bound together with other paper to form a book. A friend posted an intriguing link to Facebook earlier this week, showing some of the artwork of Brian Dettmer, a book "surgeon." And I was instantly entranced!

"Webster Two Point Oh" by Brian Dettmer

Eugene's Blog beautifully highlights these works, and another blogger followed up yesterday with an interview with the surgeon/artist himself -- showcasing more of his work. Dettmer takes books (and other media) and carves them into intricate sculptures. You can see a gallery of images at Dettmer's site, his flickr pages, or the blogs. It's definitely worth taking time to browse through them.

Looking through his artwork reminded me of a discussion I first had several years ago in a class in grad school (a debate played out over and over in the media). E-readers were a newly-emerging technology at the time, and our professor wanted to know whether we thought printed books would die out because of the new readers. I'm an unapologetic bibliophile, and so the thought of books all converting to electronic form made me panicky then, and still causes a little flutter of concern in me today.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Words on doors?

"You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart ... You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." -- Deuteronomy 6:5-6, 9

Writing on your doorposts
A few weekends ago when my husband and I were in the mountains, we strolled through a little art gallery, and there I saw a stunning mezuzah case. Mezuzot came about to fulfill the requirement in Deuteronomy 6 to write God's words on a house's doorposts, and as you might imagine, there are lots of rules about who writes the parchment and where the mezuzah goes. And while the words on the parchment are the truly important part, mezuzah cases come in many different shapes, sizes and styles.

Not being Jewish, I passed up the mezuzah case at the gallery, but I haven't stopped thinking about that beautiful little case and what it will someday contain. I also keep wondering what words my friends and family might say I would be most likely to write on my doorposts.

There's a growing trend in home decorating to put up words as art on your walls. You can even stop by your local Target and pick up some stick-on words that'll go up with ease: big, small, curly or simple, whatever suits your decor. But what words would you choose to put on your doorposts, especially the front door where your friends, family, guests, and even a stray salesman can see? I'm talking about the words that you live by.

What are the words that truly represent what's most important to you? Now: where will you write them?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Miracle Tree

Was the weather absolutely gorgeous where you were this past weekend? It was here, and my thoughts turned once again to the plans I have for our yard and gardens. I'm still trying to figure out where a fig tree could fit into all of this, but I'm not sure there's room for it. Even one fig tree would take up a lot of room.

The warm promise of spring just around the corner always exhilarates me, and I find myself thumbing through gardening catalogs and driving to my local favorite nursery to wander through rows of trees, shrubs and flowers while I plan and dream and re-plan and dream some more.

Every year, spring seems like such a miracle to me, and I'm always thrilled to see what decides to grace our garden again each year.

Speaking of miracles, did you know there's a real miracle tree? It's called the Moringa tree. Although it's a native to the Himalayas, it grows in a range of climates and can truly save lives. The Moringa tree bears fruit and its leaves can be brewed into a tea or ground into a powder to be added to food. The fruit and leaves contain a surprising range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and -- get this -- every amino acid humans need (Source).

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A replenishing place

Hi, Friends,

Do you have a place where you go to renew your spirit or rejuvenate physically and mentally? For my husband and me, that place is the NC mountains. Even this time of year, when there's still snow and ice on the ground -- not to mention salt and sand on the roads -- we love being there. How I feel when we're there and when we've just come back is like the tree in this verse from Jeremiah:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord ... For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes.
-- Jeremiah 17:7-8