Saturday, November 25, 2006

God has Given Some Great Encouragement

In so many aspects of life, it seems that a person has to work hard to make the right outcomes happen--and sometimes the goals are achieved and sometimes they aren't. (It reminds me of Ecclesiastes 1:15, What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.) It's a part of daily struggles to strive to accomplish that which is set out at the start of the day--or what we would perceive to be set out. Usually God's plans, the things He has set out for me (Ephesians 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them), are completely different than I have set out for myself. This makes it daunting to make long-term plans and goals, because who knows what will become of them? Still I have to aim far and high for the things I think are set out for me and give it all to God for the outcome.
And then I see grace happen in my life, and outcomes happen that I did not anticipate being so easy or so delightful. I see them these days in my two children: Katie, going to community college; though we both thought just community college would be something of a disappointment in comparison with her original plan to go to the Master's College this year, it has turned out so completely delightful that we have both remarked on it many times. Who would have thought? She's done well in her classes; she likes her instructors; she's making very many really great friends; and she's been given many opportunities to share her faith with others. Sometimes people she hardly knows will ask her a theological question, even when she doesn't realize she's impacted them in any way before that.
Then there's Tim. In previous years his homeschooling seemed to be nearly futile, a nearly vain attempt to keep him seated and indoors while I fed him all the teaching I could before it became impossible due to his lack of attention and inability to sit so long. I thought his learning to read might take a number of years more, and never be too successful. Yet this year, he's reading quite well, able to spell words better than I would have ever anticipated (even by mouth, without writing them down), and seeming to enjoy it so much more. He's also asking some really good questions about faith--sometimes during our daily Bible time and sometimes just before bed, when the day's cumulative thoughts have to be winnowed down for his nighttime prayers. When I assumed these would take so much longer to happen if they ever would, the fact that they indeed are happening is a huge gift. He even says that he loves to read, and often does some of our Bible reading. How encouraging is that?!
God is gracious. Sometimes He brings something to grow when we're looking the other way, when it really isn't so much anything we ourselves are doing or expecting--something like a beautiful wildflower in the middle of an untended field. It has encouraged me and reminded me that I'm not doing my work alone, though it often feels as if I am--I am merely a servant and He is my King, a loving King who already has it all planned out, allowing me just to do a small part of His huge work, through Him and with His help, encouragement, and support.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

No Great Traits, But it's a Good Thing, too

I remember a few years ago, when we still lived in our 1907 house in old Everett, we lived two doors up from a crusty 55-year-old merchant marine who loved to come up, talk to Gary, and make derisive comments to Katie, Tim and myself. One day he was spouting some pretty nasty stuff at our dinner table. It was okay for us to feed him, but he never seemed obligated as the results of eating at our house to be more polite than usual, whether in insults or language in general. I remember his appalling comment to which I responded at one point, and it's not suitable to type here. I responded something to the effect of his need for Christ. In retrospect, I can see that I was casting my pearls before swine, because it didn't bring about any improvement in his speech or attitude. He then called me self-righteous, which caused me some time of self-examination before I responded.
I had to think about the difference between self-righteousness and righteousness. While it's a clear and very discernable difference, when someone calls you that, it's good to ascertain however you can whether they have any grounds for it.
I'm pretty sure that at least for the most part he was wrong. I'm sure I have times that I take undue pride in something that is not of my own doing or that isn't as good as I think it is, or thinking that I'm at all good in my own right. Probably more than I'd like to think or admit! But I think he was saying so more because he didn't want to examine himself, and be found lacking.
I often bemoan my various inadequacies--I'm a poor housekeeper however hard I work at it; I'm not a great singer; I'm terrible at maintaining my figure (in the way I should, at least!); not in the least style-conscious; the energy that I put into cooking (while making a huge mess every time) never results in a proportionately beautiful or delicious meal, though thankfully it does keep body and soul together; and my interior design sense is completely lacking. Okay, maybe I'm adequate in man's terms at these things, in that we're still alive in this house for which I am caretaker; but I am excellent at absolutely nothing that I "should" be. And God says we are to be perfect as He is perfect. Well, I am not in any earthly sense perfect!
So I cannot, when taking a realistic view of myself, give myself kudos for anything. Cannot rightly think of myself as better than anyone else. Cannot attain in my strength to being good enough for God's standard. On the flip side, though, I think it's a good thing, in a way, that I don't generally have enough talent and beauty and skill and money, or maybe sheer stupidity, to fool myself into thinking that I'm quite so great on my own. (Sometimes, however, by means not fully understood, I can do so for a brief time!)

For example, when I refer above to my figure, I'm talking about how thin it isn't, which is at least mostly my own fault--but additionally, I'm short, and short-legged, and lack model-type qualities--which is entirely God's doing. For a while I used to bemoan this, but I realized that God in His wisdom gave me my lack of height and physical beauty, perhaps to mercifully keep me from falling for a lie that I was in some way good, adequate, beautiful, and righteous without Him.
So for all my inadequacies, I thank God.
Thank You, God, that You made me so insufficient on my own--and so fully adequate, in You alone. Amen!
2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Some Solid Promises in a Moment of Faltering

Last night we were driving some friends to the airport. We went as a family rather than have Gary drive home by himself; he insisted on it and in fact it was rather better than three of us staying home. It gave all of us a chance to fellowship, which is an opportunity that should rarely be dismissed. The usual semi-frantic nature of getting down there wasn't an issue, because they would be staying in a motel overnight to get a very early start the next day.
On our way back, discussion turned to our handling of money, and though I have not been worrying about it in any primarily noticeable way (Gary's been between jobs for a while, and God has provided amazingly), still sometimes that little fear monster, just a small one, pokes out its head. I was scolding one of us for a cavalier attitude toward our finances--the desire for a splurge on the way home. Well, it's not that I haven't splurged now and then...just the other day Katie, Tim and I split a nice Chinese lunch (they're always so big!) at Haggens for an after-Bible Study lunch. Haggens is on the pricey side. Anyway, there I was last night, rather fretting.
Don't misinterpret. We're going to do fine for quite a while still, by the look of things. It doesn't make sense as far as I can figure, but we will.
At one point on the drive when someone nearly collided with us, Tim asked some questions about angels, like whether we have guardian angels, and the verse about how He will give His angels charge over us came out in the conversation. I do feel confident that by God's grace, we have an abundant protection, that nothing will happen to us that isn't for our good, whether it feels like it or not at the time; this is a point to rely on since every time that we have been without health insurance coverage we've had no major health problems. We seem healthier without it!
Anyway, when we got to Marysville, Gary went into Albertsons BECU to deposit his check (he's been working as a temporary, putting together cardboard displays for Nintendo and doing related things, and very much enjoying the diversion of it). Katie went into the store with him, and Tim being tired wanted to stay in the van, so he and I stayed. He told me he had something we could do in his bag. I was skeptical; he had recently re-found his Star Wars book and I thought it would be something of that sort. It wasn't to be! He pulled out a small New Testament that he had been given a couple of years ago. It includes Psalms and Proverbs. I said, stupidly, "It's too dark to read it." (I realize now that if I was determined, I could have eliminated that hurdle.) No problem. He pulled out his 7-way tool that I'd given him at Christmas. It had a little blue flashlight at one end of it. Without yet being able to see, I started trying to figure out where in the Book I would turn. I could make out where Psalms were, but not which psalm I was turned to. Tim turned the light on and we read Psalm 91. This isn't one that I could say until yesterday, "Oh, I love that psalm" because until then I wouldn't have known which one it was and known its content. Now, though, thanks to Tim's little NT, it's spoken to me and I know it. We read the following; even today it chokes me up reading His promises. It's worthwhile to include the whole thing.
Psalm 91
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress,
My God, in whom I trust!"
For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with His pinions,
and under His wings you may seek refuge;
His faithfulness is a shield and a bulwark.
You will not be afraid of the terror by night,
or of the arrow that flies by day;
Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or of the destruction that lays waste at noon.
A thousand may fall at your side
and ten thousand at your right hand,
but it shall not approach you.
You will only look on with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.
For you have made the LORD, my refuge,
even the Most High, your dwelling place.
No evil will befall you,
nor will any plague come near your tent.
For He will give His angels charge concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
They will bear you up in their hands,
that you do not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion and the cobra,
the young lion and the serpent
you will trample down.
Because he has loved Me,
therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him securely on high,
because he has known My Name.
He will call upon Me, and I will answer him.
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue and honor him.
With a long life I will satisfy him,
and let him see My salvation.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

It's a Beautiful Year

It's amazing to me that it's already October. And it's beautiful all around...the sky, the leaves, the slight chill in the air, in contrast with this hottest summer on record that just passed. Well, all in all, I'm liking this year. We've had our house re-sided, which instead of the three weeks they promised, turned into a three-month job, because the supervisor Erik kept assigning the workers to other jobs. One of the two remaining workers (of the five that were assigned to our house--three were fired), Mike, recently quit because of pay issues. So in addition to the extension of the work itself, they don't even take good care of their employees. Zeke is planning to go into real estate. He'd be good at it, too. We definitely liked Mike and Zeke. (Seems to me there's a Dr. Seuss scene with a Mike and Zeke, isn't there? Something about pushing a bike up a hill?) It appears that they only hire people whose name ends with the "k" sound.
They've finally replaced the window that they broke, and twice I've had to make lists of neglected issues that they needed to address. All that's left is a hose rack that was wrecked when Jake (the first fired) tore it off the house while one bolt was still intact. They've ordered it now, and it should only be three more weeks. Meanwhile the bulk of the cost languishes in our account waiting to pay them, and we have to be careful to keep it there available and not spend it. I don't know whether this is the way they normally do business, but I can't imagine it's the most profitable.
At any rate, the house is looking good at least on the outside. I notice that we have a bit more pride of ownership--we're messy types overall (not that I don't try to be tidy, it's just a lot more work than I can accomplish!), but I'm trying harder and harder to keep things cleaned up and attended to so it continues to look nice. Gary also--he's refinished the deck, painting the railings to match the house, and took a lot of time and care to do it right. It would be really good if we could fix up the kitchen. We very well may sell the house next year, and the kitchen cupboards and floor at 13 years old are getting really shabby--they weren't the highest quality when they were installed. But we have to wait. When and if Gary gets a new job before then, we'll consider that possibility.
It's been a very content year. We've pretty much stayed at home, which I can really enjoy and appreciate; home schooling is going well--I've learned that the trick with Tim is to stay seated with him while he does it. If I get up, that's when he gets squirrelly and distracted. Having Katie in college instead of at home during the early part of the day helps reduce his distraction too. She's enjoying that, as well--finding old friends, getting to know new ones, liking the classroom environment which is for the most part a new experience for her. A neighbor family drives her to school, her friend Josh drives her back and occasionally she takes the bus. Her everyday horizons have been pushed out just a little. A good adjustment year before she goes off to live elsewhere and go to college. Life is good, and God is absolutely great. But of course, we knew that, didn't we?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Any Wonder that With Age Comes Cynicism?

Yesterday I bought some Gushers for Tim. In case you don't know, these are basically nutritionally worthless little candies disguised as good-for-you lunch snacks. I bought them because they were cheap and he always asks for them (I don't think he's ever had any before)--I figured they could work as incentives. It reminded Katie that when she was little, some other kids and she were discussing whether they were any good. The ads at the time had them all convinced that if you ate Gushers, you would turn inside out. Somehow this appealed to the kids. Kieth, the squirrelly kid who cut his hair the morning of picture day, had tried them. Emily asked him whether they worked--had he turned inside out? No, came the disappointed answer. This was an important lesson for them all in the deceptive nature of advertising.
It reminded me of when I watched Captain Kangaroo. (In case you don't know this, he hasn't been on the air since I was a kid.) Well, Captain Kangaroo had a lot of credibility with me. Why, I'm not sure. Maybe it was the fact that he could talk to rabbit and moose puppets and keep a straight face. I trusted him. Until one fateful day when he said that a certain brand of hot dogs were really good. I ran in and told my mom that Captain Kangaroo recommended them and she should buy them. "Don't you know that he's paid to say that?" she answered. Paid? I was aghast. From then on I watched with a less gullible attitude.
In another way it reminds me of the mysterious case of the spinach. My mom would serve canned spinach (perhaps she didn't know that it was much lovelier fresh). A dark, mossy green blob would sit on my plate, cold and hated. She would give me a spoonful of Miracle Whip to make it more appealing. The name was a misnomer--no miracle occurred...that is, until my father spoke. "Spinach puts hair on your chest!" he said, and suddenly the pile had value. Daddy had hair on his chest, and I wanted to be just like him. As a little girl, I didn't know I ought to be more selective in the traits I sought. Years later I realized how he must have been chuckling to himself as he saw me force the stuff down my throat.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Sleep Like a Log...

When Tim was a baby, I remember we were visiting some friends. He fell asleep in his car seat while he was waiting for me to finish talking with my friend before driving away. I realized I needed to change him before letting him spend too much more time--so I pulled him out and as he slept, I changed his clothes. (I don't remember--diaper, removing too many clothes, whatever.) Anyway, I had to pull off his shirt and do quite a bit of disruption; I didn't think a thing of it but my friend was aghast, just sure I would wake him up. I know my Tim, though. I could easily change him and have him sleep through it without even opening an eye.
It's the same today. He's 8 years old and if I have to wake him up, I'd better allow a good while in which to do it. I still could change him if I wanted to and he'd sleep through it. I know for sure that he'll sleep through a smoke alarm buzzing, since if one goes off in our house, they all do--they're wired together. It happened once, while he was asleep. There were at least four within hearing range of his room, all going off as loud as you please, and he was sleeping through it. If there were a fire, his would be the first room I'd run to in order to save anyone helpless, because the others would at least be awake.
Tonight Tim fell asleep on the couch. We needed to wake him to get him off to bed. Katie thought this was an opportunity for great fun. She took his hand and pounded his chest with it repeatedly--to no avail. She made him poke himself in the face, the nose, the ear with his fingers. Still, there is some awareness. I said, "Katie, your nose needs wiping." Well, it wasn't really, of course....but the funny thing was, Tim's hand suddenly grew tense and he wouldn't release it from his chest. Still, it took quite a few minutes to get him to open his eyes and a few more to make him willing to get up and move upstairs. There's deep sleep, and then there's deep sleep. We all have our limits.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Our Claim to Fame

Since our family has been waving signs, we have begun to realize some local recognition. We went to a rummage sale and a woman pointed at us and gave an I-recognize-you-from-somewhere look. She exclaimed, "You're the sign wavers!" And Katie remembered that this was a woman who kept mouthing comments to us as she drove by, and we couldn't decipher them, not being speed lip-readers. We found out from her that she was saying, "You're still out here?" The likelihood was that she'd seen us in the two hour morning stint, and then again in the evening--we're supposed to cover rush-hour traffic.
Yesterday, we went to a wedding. The mother of the bride (whom I had never met face-to-face, at least without a car window between) pointed at me (at the reception, not the wedding--whew!) and said, "You're--you're--" I thought maybe we knew her from a previous church. I mentioned the church we'd attended six years previous to this one. It didn't score a reaction. "You're one of those I see holding signs!" Oh yes. "Is it your daughter who waves them with you?" Yes, it was. She was so enthused, she brought me over to her younger daughter, who had also waved enthusiastically as they'd go by. She looked confused until she deciphered what her mom was telling her; then she recognized us.
Various friends of ours have also passed by and waved or honked, and we hear about it when we see them again. It's as close as I'll ever get to celebrity status...reminds me of when I used to work in a neighborhood produce store, and whether I was around our home town of Raleigh Hills, or in Victoria, or in California, people would recognize me and say, "Don't I know you from somewhere?"
It is a funny business. You hold a political sign, and you'll get a response of some sort from most passers-by. If we had no signs and waved at everyone who drove past us, they'd think we were nuts. As it is, it's perfectly acceptable in society to do what we're doing (gauging from the response of passers-by, at least). Logically speaking, I would think the opposite should be true. Without such motive to gain attention for political gain, waving at passers-by would be a sweeter and purer act, though unusual. Seems that people ought to be more skeptical of the person who waves for the sake of an election or a business rather than to be simply friendly, but I'm sure that doesn't hold as things work out.
Anyway, it seems that if we did this often enough for whatever reason around the community (with a sign of course), that pretty soon we could run for some local office and have our faces on billboards and by mere face recognition, we might get elected. It's fine work for a short season and thankfully almost all the response of drivers is positive and friendly, but I don't think I like holding signs at the side of the road quite that much.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

This isn't the Way to Make a Profit...or a Good Name

It's been about ten weeks since the start of our siding job that they promised would be done and cleaned up in three. They still aren't done. The supervisor kept moving our workers to another job and making lame excuses to me about why they couldn't finish ours yet; one of the two good workers quit on him, since by all these maneuverings the supervisor somehow avoided having to pay him for the latest 8 days of his work; the other one is planning on quitting and going into real estate. The siding is up, but there's a lot of caulking to be done and a whole list of other items including a window that was broken. The downspouts had been destroyed by the first worker who had been fired, too, and when it rained it was very noisy and the surrounding areas where it splashed were dirty from stuff in the gutters.
When we were at the fair a couple of weeks ago, Katie entered various contests, including one for our siders' company (rhymes with plate and means something geographical). When they called (not to tell us we'd won the grand prize; they didn't even mention the contest), they asked whether we wanted them to come out and give a bid on a roofing job. Well, wouldn't you want that? No, I didn't think so.
Funny thing was that when they called, there was a woman out to our house to give us an "energy audit" which turned out to be a sales call to sell us some very nice but very expensive windows. She had worked for our siding company and knew many of the people there. She gave us some pointers regarding how to deal with them, and also pointed out the broken window, which we had not noticed and had not been told about by the siders. (Now don't read this wrong. We're not getting that window job any time soon.)
When we talked to the siders when they came out for one more day of work, they told us that their supervisor had been told about the window--and yet it seems he did nothing about it.
After our window saleswoman left, I typed up a two-page summary of our various frustrations, including the supervisor's many excuses, and called the man who had sold us the job. He forwarded it to his boss, who gave the matter over to a woman who called us and didn't have a copy of my summary in front of her; I e-mailed her another. They will be finishing the job sometime, I presume, and she did promise they would replace the window, which she said will take at least three weeks.
Yesterday a couple of men came out to put up the downspouts. They looked at me as if I were a dragon lady. I'm sure they were told that I was a complainer. Whatever. The downspouts are on and nice and shiny and new. Makes me glad in a way that the first ones were destroyed after all. Now just to get the job done otherwise. At least we don't have to pay them until the window is in. I don't know how they afford to do business this way, but whatever. It's made for a messy summer, but at least the house is looking somewhat better. We still need to paint the fascia boards, under the soffits and on the garage doors, so there's still quite a bit of grey clashing with the cream trim and pale yellow siding. I'm glad to think it will all come out right in the end. Probably.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Could it be a Pack of Monkeys?

Tonight Katie and I started attending the WOW (Women of the Word) evening Bible study at church. I thought that everything was under control--read, my control--that just the right amount of things were making up my fall schedule. That was, until Tim said, "Do they have a place for kids at night?"--referring to how last year he attended a homeschool study time while I went to the study in the morning session. Of course, this year he wants badly to attend, when last year his enthusiasm rose and fell week by week. When they announced last Sunday that they needed someone in the mornings to work in the nursery, I thought about how well the need dovetailed with Tim's request. I wouldn't miss the study; Tim would still (theoretically) get his homeschooling done for the day; and the nursery need would be filled. Okay. I know a nudge when I feel it. So starting tomorrow, I'm watching the babies and Tim's going to class. I have a tendency to mentally look askance at this "loss of time" in my selfish desire to get things done around the house. I know, though, that when all is said and done, watching the babies will be a huge reward and I'll wonder how I could have ever thought of not being there. I even get to work with another woman who I don't know well, but I would like to know will be good.
Never mind my housekeeping. So when you come over and it (still) looks like a pack of monkeys got loose and stayed about a month, give me the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they didn't. Maybe they did. Who's to tell?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Menagerie

The portion of this that describes the behavior of the fish might make more sense when you find that I was wrong about what kind it was (gasp). I confess, I'm not that much of an animal person. See correction in third comment down...
While I was waiting for Gary and Tim to come home from an errand, I worked on the overwhelming task of cleaning the garage. I came in to the sound of about 5 kids hollering in our front room--not trying to yell, just to be heard over each other. (It almost made me want to go back into the garage.) If they whispered the effort to communicate would have worked better. They were all abuzz about how Tim's new blue Tettra is a boy...they say. (How they know I'm not sure.) I couldn't imagine how it mattered...and I have already wondered how they come to have babies. They have a social life worse than porcupines, because even if they see another in an adjacent tank, they just about have a heart attack trying to kill the other. So anyway, whether it's a boy or a girl, how it could matter I can't even think. Usually I like to know basic facts about things in our house, but not when they're so hopelessly useless. Especially since the main activity of the fish is to do a still-life act like it's a fake suspended in gel instead of a real fish swimming around in water. Pretty depressing, to my way of thinking.
Tim's got quite a menagerie right now. In addition to the fish, there are for the moment the neighbors' two lizards they left with us so they could go on a trip. This is their third time, and you'd think we'd be good at it. They pay Tim a crazy $10 to spray them with water twice a day. He doesn't even open the cage for fear they might escape. Well, I don't know that we're any good at it. When she dropped them off, she said she wasn't sure about one of them, he'd lost his tail...later that day a young member of our household made the mistake of spraying their heat light with water, which made it shatter. We went to WalMart and bought two more bulbs, one for day and one for night because there were none quite like theirs, which they used for both. I thought maybe the day and night change would be good for the little lizard that had lost his tail. If so, it was too little too late. Today Tim noticed that the lizard wasn't moving and was turning a darker green. Well, so now there is the neighbor's one lizard. It's better than I thought it might be; without the lightbulb working, they hunkered down in the moss to try to keep warm. We couldn't see for a while whether they'd escaped or not, and I was imagining myself saying, "Here are your pet crickets..." which are the food they leave in the cage for the lizard(s). I wondered briefly whether they might be convinced that we had some fierce crickets that had turned on their lizards and eaten them instead? But no, I couldn't rely on that level of gullibility (though it might have worked on me).
And then there are the three hermit crabs, which live their lives peacefully and quietly these days, only altering things with a different choice of shell. I don't leave them as often to exercise in a different cage any more, because the one we have is the one they escape from so readily and I don't have the attention level or time to watch it for very long. But they don't complain, and they don't bark, and they're interesting if you pull them out to walk around, so I like them well enough.
So life here animal-wise is sort of peaceful, sort of uneventful, other than the death of a lizard. Until the neighbor kids come over to do their anatomical analyses.

Honk (and Smile) if You See Us!

At 7-9:00 this morning Katie and I continued waving and holding campaign signs. (In case you wonder, our signs are for Stephen Johnson and John Groen for two state Supreme Court positions. These are property rights proponents, in contrast to the record of their competitors.) Gary and Tim were impossible to get up; Gary had an interview later today and needed his rest, so we left them alone.
We chose the curb outside of Marysville's biggest Starbucks, knowing the local penchant for legal addictive stimulants. It was cold outside! The property where we stood was having yardwork done, and a man with a blower managed to blow quite a bit of debris into our faces as we stood there, backing up as fast as we could. We saw various members from our church go by; policeman Kit stopped a driver and gave him a ticket, and waved at us as he left. By the time we were done we were stiff with cold.
Because Katie and I have both received Starbucks gift cards that at such times burn like embers in our pockets, we got to enjoy the luxury of some hot caffeine and the warmth of the indoor brown chatty atmosphere of their coffee shop. While we were there, four people from Grace arrived. (I'm pretty sure our church accounts for at least half of Marysville Starbucks' profits.) We might go to Starbucks and actually sit once in six or ten months...if that. We buy the stuff maybe once per month, if that (this is the second time this week thanks to these cards). So it was very much a treat and a luxury to sit in such a place and get our mobility back into our joints.
In an hour and a half we'll be waving and holding signs again. Let us know if you are going past us, will you?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Waving at Strangers

The other day we got an e-mail telling us that MasterBuilders was arranging for "get out the vote" work, and we responded. It turned out that the work they assigned us was to hold signs at major intersections in Marysville--for two judicial candidates. They pay us to hold the signs--a nice opportunity, since Gary's been out of work a while--for five hours a day all but Sunday. And little do they know, we probably would have done some of it for free. Maybe not so many hours though.
I am happy to hold these signs; they're good candidates and I like the work. I like standing with signs and waving at people; Katie said we were being paid to "people-watch." Still, we did it five hours today and my frame is old and very tired. Gary went into Home Depot afterward and I wanted to stay in the car. By the time they came out, I was very fast asleep, and Gary knocked on the window to wake me up. I was startled into wakefulness and we went home.
I was personally amazed at how many people would smile and wave back at us. It heartens me, when so often I ponder the coldness of American society, the type of coldness that gets in the news or breaks down neighborhood and family relations, the type of coldness that causes people to be skeptical about God. Today I saw an innocent side of people. I'm pretty sure they didn't know whether they liked the candidate or not, as the judicial candidates seem to be more cloaked in mystery. Still, they waved like little kids.
Now the little kids, that was another matter. Buses would go by, and we'd wave at the buses. Most of the kids would stare at us and wonder at these adults waving like mad at them. The more they stared the more I waved. It was kind of fun just to show them how ridiculously unresponsive they were. I said, "Good morning!" The funny thing was, out of three buses, the rider over the back wheel would wave; maybe one other, but that one would for sure. Maybe he or she would be more awake because of the awkward seating or maybe a bit nicer person takes that kind of seat.
It makes me wonder. Are the kids becoming more cynical and more cold than the adults? It could be. I hope not.
It was fun to watch Tim. He pulled out our little cooler and sat on it holding his sign. I thought that was okay, since they're not paying him. And when he stood up, he held the sign with more energy than the rest of us combined and got more smiles and I'm sure amused more people than we did. He called me across the street on Gary's cell phone about 5 times, making sure of various things.
Another thing I found. Katie had to leave about 15 minutes early. Gary and Tim were on the other side of the street. After Katie left, not many people waved at this old lady. Maybe it was a coincidence. On the other hand, maybe some of their waving wasn't so innocent after all. I did tell Katie when she was with me that this was odd, that I was okay with her waving at who-knows-how-many strange men (and some were quite strange) passing by on their way to and from work. And she and I both noted that the younger women didn't always seem to like her waving when their husbands or boyfriends were driving; the older women were usually okay with it. Just some interesting observations.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Gotta Push to Relate, if not Communicate

The visit from our little Japanese girls left me amazed at how I assumed from their actions all the wrong conclusions--that they hated being here, that they hated us, whatever. It is easy to assume from what I see, from all that my senses tell me, many things. The harder thing is to 1) give the other person the benefit of the doubt 2) dig more to find out whether it really is that way (if it can be done in spite of language/culture barriers) 3) adjust where my personal attitude is in response to, or more in spite of, what I can know about another person.
For a while I did give them the benefit of the doubt, in thinking they needed an adjustment time for jet lag and for culture changes. My assumption before meeting them was that all the students would be coming here eager to improve their English by using it, and I do feel that the teacher should have only brought those who he thought would make an effort to interact well. I wasn't prepared for shyness and lack of self-assurance, furthered by the strong bond among the three that would cripple their interaction with us. With the unavoidable barriers of culture it's hard to know how much to push and encourage them to use their English, to stay among us, to learn the American culture.
In the case of our guests, admittedly the language and culture differences were a huge wall that I hadn't found a way to surmount. Their teacher hadn't, either, and he lives in Japan, speaks Japanese, and knows them fairly well. In light of this, I'm sure they were a harder bunch than most to relate to in a normal way. I'm not even sure why the last day, they were suddenly so much more open. Perhaps the scarcity of time left made them feel an urgency to be transparent.
I did try to show them that we needed to interact, that they needed to speak even if it was difficult; I tried not to allow pointing and noises instead of speech. This just caused them to stay in their room more. And there was no way to be sure that they understood what I said. I remember one morning when I had planned to bring the Jesus film for children to the church so their teacher could show it, and had placed it next to the phone. It disappeared. Tim didn't remember moving it. I went downstairs and asked Lena if they had it. She nodded. I asked if she would bring it up when she came. She nodded again. When they came up they had no video. I asked again, "Could you bring up the video?" They looked at one another and nodded. And stood there. "Do you know where the video is?" They nodded. "Could you go get it?" They nodded. And stood there. Finally Tim found the video under a coffee table where no one could readily see it. Now I don't know how it got there, whether they didn't want to see it again (they'd seen it in Japanese before), or whether Tim actually had moved it. But that communication problem was the type of thing that happened a number of times during their visit.

So instead of trying to communicate with them, I ended up staying silent most of the time while they spoke minimally in Japanese to each other. My way of showing love to them was to serve meals, do their laundry, clean their bathroom, and take them places--with a minimum of talk. I took them to the same stores repeatedly: Target three times, the Outlet Mall twice, Alderwood Mall, Costco, the grocery store, Fred Meyer...only once did I refuse. That morning I asked, "Are there any more stores you want to shop at?" They answered no. We took them along with us to Mukilteo on an errand, and while we were coming from Everett onto the freeway the girls noticed what they perceived as a great opportunity. "Can we go to Costco?" It was 4:30 on a Saturday and my thought that they interrupted was how great it was to be going home. "No," I said, poorly stifling a laugh. Costco at 4:30 on a Saturday wasn't my idea of fun. I did explain that I'd asked that morning, and that it was the wrong time on the wrong day. Who knows whether they understood.
They seemed to understand Tim, though most of his communication was antics and intolerable acts. Most of what I ever heard from them was "No, Tim!" or "Tim, stop!" in the back yard. There were many times they thought he was hilarious, and just as many times he got on their nerves (which is the exact same response he gets from the rest of us). I think that however it happened, he was the one they were sorriest to leave--probably because he pushed to spend time with them (whether they welcomed him or not); he didn't let language be a barrier; and when nothing else came easily, he used comedy for relief. I think he could have taught us all something there.

Monday, August 28, 2006

A Stunning Goodbye

Tonight we said good bye to Ai, Shioli and Lena. I thought I would come home feeling free, like we had our life back to normal. I thought it would be easy parting. I also never dreamed, to my own shame, that the girls were enjoying it here, and would also have a difficulty parting. I was entirely wrong.
The class has a tradition of writing thank-yous out to be read aloud at the final potluck. For the first time, I heard Lena speak. She was more clearly understood than either of the other two, yet all month, for lack of confidence she refused and would have Ai or Shioli speak; she looked incredulous when I told her she spoke well. I too lack confidence--for every positive thing they said in their thank yous, I kept finding in my own mind exceptions...ways that I had failed...problems that I had created...probability that they didn't mean what they said. Well, I could, or should, have done better. But I am not perfect and perfection isn't what God expects I can perform (though on the other hand we are to be perfect as He is perfect--it's the goal but unachievable in our own strength...I have to remind myself of that!).
I asked the girls if they were looking forward to going home. They all, to my confused surprise, shook their heads. I was so sad that they didn't long for their families more than this strange American family with whom they couldn't communicate. They said they wanted to stay longer. I don't know what they could have said that would have made my heart ache more.
I was wanting all month to tell the girls my testimony, and to share more about Christ with them. There had been no openness, no opportunity. I had a suspicion somehow that though they'd heard a lot about Jesus, they didn't know that He is alive today. This was one of the keys to my faith--attending our first church for four years before I understood that, explained by someone at work. We sat a while; they were very evidently ready to listen and talk. We discussed their visit to start, and then I told them about how I came to faith. I started by telling them that at their age I knew so much less than they did about Jesus; that they had gone to church more than I had at their age. I told them that Jesus was alive today--and I saw the confusion on their faces, a confusion I knew myself not so terribly long ago. It was my delight to clarify that confusion for them, to tell them about the resurrection, which they had seen in the two movies we'd shown them, but also about the ascension. It is so vital because Jesus being alive today is someone we can worship; if He were dead, what would be the point? Where would His power be?
The great topper to all this was to tell them the changes that knowing Jesus makes--the peace, the joy, the forgiveness received, the forgiving ability, the eternal hope, the freedom...I told them how to pray and that they could pray with Marcel, his wife Karla, with me, or by themselves. It did seem that a new understanding had dawned on them. I hope and will be praying that they will turn to Christ and live for Him. Japan isn't the greatest place to start a Christian walk, so this would be a challenge--but with God all things are possible.
Well, when we were ready to go, the girls and Tim were all lost in tears. This was something I never would have imagined earlier in the day. We took pictures, said good-bye to Marcel, and left; the girls followed us out to the van and accepted Katie's pad of kleenex. The parting was as though we had been closely knit together throughout the month. I am so bumbling, so mistaken; I have assumed so much and gotten it wrong; I am so thankful for God's forgiveness and grace.

A Long Month Comes to an End

Today our Japanese exchange students go back to Japan. I wish I could say we really had a swell time with them. I love the idea of hosting exchange students who really relate. The first set we had two years ago, Shino and Azumi, were really interactive with us and we have many happy memories of them; in contrast, these three are such close friends with each other that they don't need anyone else. Their teacher Marcel says he finds the same frustration in class. At least I can hope therefore that it's them and not entirely us.
We were hoping to be able to relate enough to speak of faith, but at every contact with faith they have been very hard, and when they're not interested they claim not to understand. We showed them the Jesus film for children, which is very sweet, and the Miracle Maker, which is a claymation film of Jesus' life for kids, very artfully done and captivating. Of course in both I find a couple of objections that I would have preferred done differently (in Miracle Maker, John the Baptist seems effeminate to me, for example) but at least there's a forum in which we can tell something of our faith to the less-receptive.
My most frustrated point was yesterday in getting to church. Last week they seemed very intentional in getting us there late, so this time I made every effort to get them to church on time and they still managed to keep us from getting out the door. It's really not hard for them; they just get up as late as possible, eat very slowly, go slowly downstairs again to get hardly anything they need, and stay there until the clock says we're late, then come up. What do you do? I wish I were cleverer and had managed something that could bodily force them gently into the van on time. I wouldn't have minded so much, if it seemed they were trying at all to cooperate.
That and a few other things make me ponder whether I'm cut out for exchange students. If I knew they were interactive ahead of time, I think I would be. Our family really has a culture of interaction and I detest the cold indifference. I have a great desire to host kids who have a chance of being receptive and just maybe somewhat appreciative, and this is the second hosting opportunity where we've felt this same chilling unfriendliness. I know a lot of that is pride in me, that I "should" be acknowledged with just a "hi" as they come in from outside and file past me, that I "should" be able to expect that they cooperate with something I want, that they "should" at least offer to pick up groceries rather than step over them when they get out of the van, when I spend so much time making sure they have a good time and abundant meals; that they "should" try to speak English, since that's the premise on which they came. It's pride. It's also cultural and personal expectation, which is also pride especially when they have no cultural or personal understanding of us. Still it is discouraging, especially when our desire to share Christ has little or no likelihood of succeeding with them.
So I'm personally looking forward to this drawing to a close. It's been a long month. Part of me wants to keep trying, and maybe as the memory fades this will increase; part of me wants never to do it again...and if that's pride, then Satan would win and I've failed. I try thinking of other ways, such as hosting college students, or foster kids. It's definitely a matter for prayer, as God must have placed this desire in me for a reason; my main hesitation is my own huge inadequacy, and yet He is my adequacy so that's no argument. Anyway, as for today, I'm glad it's today and that this was for a month and not a school year. There's still the hope that we somehow made some positive impact for Christ; that would redeem it all.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I Made My Family Disappear!

Today I, Never Alone, am...home..."alone." All the rest of the family went with all the Japanese students down to Seattle for the day and then to the Mariners game tonight. sounded so good. I was enjoying taking the morning kind of slow. I got to do my quiet time a bit earlier than I've been able to in the recent weeks that the girls come up early for a breakfast (my family does not do that--they shuffle in later just to get a bowl of cereal or something quick)...and while the girls eat I try to quickly make their lunches on their school days so that they can bring them along. This also is not a family tradition, since we homeschool, and lunch just happens when it happens. When we're hungry. We don't use the average amount of saran wrap and sandwich bags, not here at our house. Anyway, usually my own day doesn't get started until after 9 a.m. while we host the girls.
So yes, the morning was wonderful. Then the doorbell rang; a little neighbor wanted to borrow a dictionary. English is our native tongue and we have two dictionaries and use them frequently. English is their second language...and they don't have a dictionary. I can't imagine how they get by. If I were speaking Japanese or Hindi or Punjabi, I think every 5 minutes into a conversation I'd be sunk without a dictionary. Well, again I digress. While she was asking for a dictionary, a yellow strip of paper rubber-banded to the doorknob caught my eye, and I was taking it in while she was making her request.
The paper was from the City of Marysville...they determined that it appears we have a water leak. It showed how to tell whether it's between the meter and the house, or somewhere in the house. I turned off the main water valve, and went to check the meter. It had stopped, so the leak was in the house. I suspect it has to do with the downstairs toilet, the one the Japanese girls use. It's had that "keep on running" sound for quite a while. Now that I see the numbers from Marysville, I'm aghast at how much water we must have been wasting. The paper says that in two months we've used 56,000 the dry season. We haven't been using the sprinkler nearly as much as I'd like since the siding people have had their stuff all over the place and it's hard to do. So it's not from watering the yard (and the yard is my witness--do you like brown?). It might have been aggravated somewhat by the fact that Gary did a bunch of pressure washing the other day.
Anyway, today is now accounted for. As soon as the washer finishes its current load, I'll turn off the water to the house--since the valve under the toilet was stupidly installed in such a way that it can't be turned without disassembling the toilet. So I get to play plumber with my day "off." How can this be a good thing? Well, I'm glad I don't have to explain it to the Japanese girls. They'd never understand. And I'm glad no one has to holler because they don't have running water! For that matter, I'm glad (in a slightly resigned way) that I can do this without calling a plumber; it will save us some money; and I'm also glad it's not between the meter and the house--we won't have to dig a nice trench in our dead lawn through the nasty clay soil of Marysville. God is great! He knew what needed to be done...and just when...and just how...and by whom.
Psalm 118:24 This is the day which the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Global economy: many trips across the ocean, many nationalities involved

Yesterday at breakfast I asked our three Japanese girls whether there was a store they had seen that they wanted to go to again. They looked at each other for their characteristic quiet moments, and discussed in their typical short quiet Japanese sentences what they wanted to answer. Then Ai said, "Target!" So that's where I took them.
We had been there the other day and they loved the greeting cards. This time they looked through the $1 items and then the school supplies, the office supplies, the art and craft and scrapbooking materials, the health and beauty aids, and then the snacks. Finally after about 1 1/2 hours they were ready to leave. Never saw so much more of Target than I cared to--though as if to assist in enjoying the process, God had us bump into three different family groups from the church: Becca W and her mother and kids; three of the McAuliffes; and Katie H and her mom and new baby Emmett.
As we were waiting for the girls to check out, Katie and I noted how the girls contributed about $100 in just this store visit to the American economy. Yet, not entirely to ours: most of the items were probably made in China. Maybe with American material. Even then perhaps much of that was harvested by a Mexican labor force. We really are in a global economy of sorts! And by the end of this month, those items will be headed on their way back across the Pacific, to Japan.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

There's Value in the Right Kind of Clock!

Yesterday evening we took Ai, Shioli and Lena to the Centennial Trail nearby (in case you haven't been reading my previous blogs, they're Japanese exchange students staying with us for a month). Our favorite starting point on that trail is from Machias, going along some farm land. It's been a long time since we walked along it there, and the walk was as much for our fun as theirs. They were amazed by the cows nearby and took endless pictures of them.
Katie spotted what appeared to be a deer high up on a hill nearby, and she ran to point it out to the girls. Just as they started to take pictures of the deer, a number of people showed up on the same patch of ground as the deer, approached it, made some fuss there and went on--and the deer stayed. After we watched a while longer, we concluded that someone must have planted a deer statue there as a joke. I'm not sure the girls understood. Even after we tried to tell them, they took more pictures.
We approached a stream and Katie pulled up some wheat growing wild near the path, and used it to play "Pooh Sticks" with the girls. The source of this inane game is a Winnie the Pooh video Katie saw as a kid, where Eeyore plays it. Whatever, it's just a race to see which person's stick dropped in the water shows up on the other side of the bridge. I guess the girls thought it was interesting enough too, because they played it for some time--even though the stuff usually got caught on rocks under the bridge. I did enjoy handling the wheat--it wasn't your usual grassy weeds, but the kind of stuff that's thicker and heavier and really beautiful.
I was inexplicably tired after our walk--I could hardly think of leaving the recliner to go to bed. So instead Katie set the stove clock timer for me, for enough sleep time to get up at 7:30. That was all that was going to work for me (for whatever reason--I normally wouldn't be so exhausted; maybe it's the matter of feeding and providing for three extra kids with only limited communication?) and so I started out the night there in the chair. After a while of sleeping very heavily I woke up and noticed that the clock said 6:02, so I thought it would be a great idea to just get up and start the day--so I went and took a shower, ran a wash, did a few other things--then I noticed another clock said something like 3:00! Yes. I had looked at the remaining time on the timer, and not at an operative clock time. Well, at least I'd gotten some laundry done! I went back to sleep and started the day again, a bit bleary-eyed, at 7:30, to prepare the girls their usual heavy-duty breakfast. For three tiny girls, they do have enormous appetites. A typical breakfast for them includes sausage, cereal, rice, orange juice, and either pancakes, french toast or waffles, along with maybe some fruit. And they eat all of it! While they're eating, if they're off to school or a field trip for the day, I fix them a similar-sized lunch, and they eat it also. So this may explain my energy level drooping!
Today we brought the girls to Krispy Kreme and Target, and then we drove to Mount Erie, hoping that they would enjoy the amazing view of the San Juan Islands. All the way on the drive up, I was sleepy, to the point that even slightly opening my eyes brought the piercing sunshine painfully into a fully activated headache from my mid-night misadventure.
Unfortunately, when we got there, Krispy Kreme was cleaning their facility and did not have the machinery going. Well, unfortunately in that it would have been much more fun and interesting to see the donuts being dunked in the hot batter, and at just the right time being flipped over, and then being automatically glazed...reminds me of a memorable chapter of Homer Price, by McCloskey--if you have kids it's a good excuse to read this sweet book. I guess the clean-up is fortunate in that you can hope that the donuts are made in a clean facility. Anyway, Gary, Tim, and the girls picked out a donut well enough. I picked out a latte instead and Katie wasn't wanting anything. So shortly after I downed my latte I was feeling almost normal.
The girls seemed a bit bored and mystified at every stop. They didn't really get the Krispy Kreme sensation...would have been nice to see it operative.
When we brought them to Target they acted similarly bored until we got to greeting cards. They spent about 45 minutes picking out various greeting cards there. I can't explain this. It was all they cared about in the store. The strange thing is, they were all written in English. Whatever! After that we headed to Mount Erie. Mount Erie is a small mound that rises just high enough above the flat land beneath it that it is a good place for such a view--it is situated so that from both sides you can see the islands, including the north end of Whidbey, from the one side, and the more industrialized area on the other.
We ran into a couple from England who were sightseeing all the region; they found their way up there by themselves, which was an achievement since it wasn't well-marked. Mount Erie is used for rock-climbing practice and picnics and photo opportunities. At least we enjoyed it. The girls took pictures of each other holding their fingers up as a peace sign, smiling, with hopefully some view in the background.
Tonight Tim and I made pizza from scratch, and a salad. He's really a good help in the kitchen, and seemed to enjoy the dinner all the more since he had a (well-washed) hand in making it. He even ran out to the vegetable garden and harvested some of the vegetables for the salad, enjoying even the broccoli because it tastes so tangy home-grown. It was a good day, and I'm tired yet again. But I'm going to sleep in my bed...with a normal clock!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Voice of Truth

This posting of lyrics to "The Voice of Truth" performed by Casting Crowns is for the sake of JenM, who (gasp) has never heard that song. (I don't normally post lyrics; this is a special circumstance--too many great songs from which to choose!) As I had commented on her blog, my story about it is as follows: Last winter we took our Tim to the movie, Polar Express. The movie gives quite the sales job for believing in Santa Claus, and on the way home, Tim was kind of seeming to buy into it. (We haven't actively promoted Santa with him as more than just a fun myth.) I don't remember what he said, but at that moment "The Voice of Truth" by Casting Crowns started playing on the radio. Good timing! We got to discuss contrasting the "voice" of the movie vs. the "voice" of the real meaning of Christmas. Since then, I think of that afternoon whenever I hear the song. The words overall are such a great encouragement (I've actually never read them until today)...and I know all the words don't have to do with myths such as Santa, but they do have to do with standing firm and trusting God...but for us, the chorus spoke to it and kind of defined where our stance should be regarding the conflict between faith and unbelief. Can you tell, I love this song!

"Voice of Truth"
Oh what I would do to have
The kind of faith it takes
To climb out of this boat I'm in
on to the crashing waves
To step out of my comfort zone
Into the realm of the unknown where Jesus is
And He's holding out His hand

But the waves are calling out my name
And they laugh at me
Reminding me of all the times I've tried before and failed
The waves they keep on telling me
Time and time again. "Boy, you'll never win!"
"You'll never win!"

But the Voice of Truth tells me a different story
The Voice of Truth says, "Do not be afraid!"
And the Voice of Truth says, "This is for My glory"
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of Truth

Oh what I would do to have
The kind of strength it takes to stand before a giant
With just a sling and a stone
Surrounded by the sound of a thousand warriors
Shaking in their armor
Wishing they'd have had the strength to stand
But the giant's calling out my name
And he laughs at me
Reminding me of all the times I've tried before and failed
The giant keeps on telling me
Time and time again.
"Boy you'll never win!"
"You'll never win!"

Chorus: But the Voice of Truth tells me a different story
The Voice of Truth says, "Do not be afraid!"
And the Voice of Truth says, "This is for My glory"
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of Truth

But the stone was just the right size
To put the giant on the ground
And the waves they don't seem so high
From on top of them looking down
I will soar with the wings of eagles
When I stop and listen to the sound of Jesus
Singing over me

I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Here's Looking at You, Kid

Well, as an update, things are looking pretty good with the siding though we're still deciding who we'll have repair the front porch posts; it will be done for the most part this week and the posts will be re-sided after they're fixed. The siders have been great to work with, the two who remain. And Katie and I continue to disdain wheat, though we're not wasting away as fast as we would like in spite of it all.
Shioli, Ai, and Lena are doing very well. The other night they made us a Japanese dinner. We had some serious misgivings based on the previous time that we hosted girls. The girls we hosted two years ago had made us a miso soup from what was probably a bad was so hard to look pleased and I'm sorry to say that those girls, two years ago, could tell.
When Shioli, Ai and Lena had us take them to Albertsons for Japanese ingredients, I was increasingly filled with an awesome dread. They bought udon noodles, and shrimp, dried seaweed and a pink and white half-cylinder they called fish paste. Overall, not a bad choice of ingredients; I was confident I could survive the seaweed though I distinctly remember it sticking to the roof of my mouth when I'd had it before. But there was one package that gave me shudders like few other food products could exceed. It was a package full of dried little fish--I heard they were anchovies--complete with heads, and they all looked up at me with an incriminating gaze.
We all came home and the girls started dinner. It was 5:00. They worked together and laughed and talked in the kitchen, and when I walked through to provide the soy sauce and flour for them, I saw the fish swimming--well, not exactly--amidst the dried seaweed in a pot on the stove. I was glad I couldn't hear them talk. The fish, that is. The girls chattered on happily in their Japanese, and I hoped in my heart that the pot would catch fire or something. It didn't.
Then they made the shrimp tempura. They oohed and ahhed each time a hot shrimp coated with flour and water hit the hissing hot oil. They also used our rice cooker to make the sticky rice that they love to eat often (I try to serve some alongside almost every meal when I'm doing the cooking).
They worked for 2 1/2 hours before they finished. When they were done, there were seven beautiful bowls of udon noodles topped with the shrimp tempura and a couple of half-circles of white rimmed in pink--the fish paste. It was all fantastic, like something offered by a nice Japanese restaurant. Thankfully, I'd seen (trying to observe unobtrusively, half-hidden in a recliner) that they had strained and discarded the fish and seaweed out of the broth they were making for the purpose of cooking the noodles. Now that, we wimpy Americans could handle! May God be praised for His grace and mercy.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

No Bread, No Muffins, No Crackers--but Rice is Nice!

A little more than a week ago I realized that I could go without wheat--something I've contemplated in the past because of suspected allergies but never accomplished. Normally I've never thought I could possibly pay enough attention to succeed at such an idea, but though there are distractions in my life, at this point it seems pretty easy, perhaps as if to prove the verse, "To everything there is a season..." For me it's less complicated than Weight Watchers or similar plans. All it takes is to keep on paying attention.
It's kept me from a whole table full of dessert possibilities at a potluck; a slice of wedding cake and some crackers at a reception; two batches of muffins I made here; and various meal portions such as noodles and tortillas. I imagine it might be about 600 calories' savings per day on average.
I've only had some miniscule slip-ups so far--breading on onion rings and on chicken, and part of a cracker. We don't eat a whole lot of extremely commercially processed foods here (there are certainly exceptions), so that makes it easier. And maybe it's also due to the fact that I'm making rice at almost every meal for our exchange students, so that's also an option for me when others are eating wheat.
Years ago I stopped eating chocolate (with the exception of the occasional spumoni ice cream--who could resist that?!) and stopped gaining weight though I didn't start losing...and then just in the last number of months the weight started going up again in spite of fairly constant activity. So with the start of this wheat diet, within a couple of days I'd gone down about 5 pounds. (I didn't weigh myself the first day, so I'm relying on a measure about a month ago.) It's bobbed around since then and now I think it might be 6 pounds lost. Seems frustrating to slow down, but when that's for just about two weeks' withholding one food product, I think that's pretty nice. I hope to do as I did with chocolate and make it a permanent or at least semi-permanent change until I lose most or all of my excess. I'll give you updates as it continues--for my own accountability if nothing else!

A Cross-Cultural Encouragement

It's been about a week since we picked up our exchange students who will be with us for a month. Tim has been the best one at communication skills with them, playing for hours in the back yard or downstairs, and there's been an abundance of giggling and fast talk that if you don't listen closely sounds as much like it could be English as anything else; they play volleyball and foosball and who-knows-what all over the place. From what could be overheard after today's school time, they were using all their practice questions on him downstairs: "What's your favorite car?" (Mustang). Not sure how clearly his answers were understood, but that was the exercise.
I think they've been adjusting to the new and no doubt overwhelming sensory challenges, such as American food and furniture and all that. They always clean their plates, and they are most clearly happy with my cooking if I cook up some sticky rice, which they will eat any time of the day. For the most part they politely take it all in stride no matter what I serve.
The biggest amazement I've seen on their faces was when I brought them a lunch that our neighbors Dean and Stacia were kind enough to purchase at a nearby restaurant that makes sushi and teriyaki. Dean came over to deliver it midday, only to be so disappointed by the fact that they were off to school (Stacia had told me the day before but I forgot that their schedules would so collide). From what Stacia said, he was looking forward to practicing some Japanese that he had been learning. It won't happen early tomorrow, either, because they are off to the water park; maybe tomorrow evening. He made enough that they were absolutely full of their Japanese feast both for lunch and for dinner. (Maybe he forgot that 12- and 13-year-old girls don't have he-man appetites.) I heard one of them say something in a delighted voice that sounded like "Good" but I suspect that in Japanese it meant something more like, "We just may survive this week."
It was an encouragement to Ai, Lena and Shioli, and to me too. I don't even mind that there are three peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches sitting neglected in my fridge. Anyone hungry?

Friday, July 28, 2006

Cain't Get Good Help, Nowadays...

Well, I hate to say that it happened again. We'd had our siding project started by a man whom we heard would be fired because of his poor work (which at our house they had to undo and redo)...well, out of the four men they've sent since, two more have probably met the same fate.
The supervisor came out a while back and drew a line all the way around the house at the same level, from which all the boards are supposed to be at exact intervals.
Katie and I had left for a few hours this morning and returned to some bad news from Zeke, one of the two remaining workers. He said, "Go and look at the side of the garage." I had no idea--was there a huge hole punched in the wall? What could it be? I got there and the wall, which had been completely covered with new siding when we left, was now bare--the boards had to be removed there and wherever the men had worked without direct oversight from Zeke.
The two who were longest at the job have been working according to instructions, but two newer workers just up from California started on the job the other day and today it was found that their application of the boards was one inch off; they weren't following instructions. So again, the work they had done was not an asset but a detriment and a slowdown.
I'm happy with the company who contracted the work, that they are exacting and willing to take measures to see that the work is done right. I'm sorry to see that it's so hard to find workers who will simply do what they're told. And one of the three who left claimed to be a Christian; another of the three attended a church nearby and I don't suspect he was a believer. I don't know about the last one. But the shameful thing is that the two best workers, friendly and easy to work with, have been unbelievers, while presumable believers have shamed the name of Christ.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

As the hermit crab world turns

Perhaps you know that Tim has three hermit crabs. The first was Sandy Claws, who was given to him as a Christmas present by our neighbors Dean and Stacia. The second one, Hermie Claws, he bought for himself. The third, Dean and Stacia gave to him after they got sick of his hermit crab ways--he was Crabby Cakes, but after being adopted became Crabby Claws. Appropriately so, I might add.
They've added some adventure to our at-home lives. Crabby tends to break out of their bin where we put them for an opportunity for exercise. It's big but the walls are barely too short to stay assured of their incarceration. Any of them who break loose tend to go while under observation straight to Tim's shoes, among all the family shoes that are lined up on the stairs. Crabby has escaped without our immediate notice three times. Twice, he reappeared in the dirty clothes of the laundry room after two weeks of being AWOL. I'd vacuumed in there a few days ago, and yesterday he showed up, walking along minding his own business. I picked him up and he immediately pinched me hard--and when I'd try pulling him away, he pinched harder. I was wrestling to get him off in my pain, and he wasn't letting go. About 3 minutes later he finally released me when I lightly whacked his shell. I gave him to Tim, who wisely held him by the shell and not under the claws.
Today, I looked in their cage and there was Sandy, out of his snail shell, looking a little embarrassed at being found naked. (Whenever they've changed shells before, they modestly waited until no human was watching.) I called to Tim so he could take a look. (It's only a hermit crab, after all! Ha!) We picked up one of the two little huts in the cage, and found what appeared to be the remains of a crab. We were alarmed, thinking that Sandy had eaten one of the other crabs. But when we looked in their shells, they were occupied. I suddenly realized that Sandy had molted and was waiting for his new shell to dry before taking on a snail shell again. The empty hull was not a dead crab but an empty shell. Tim had run into the bathroom in his horror, but now came out to investigate the new thought and to play with the macabre-looking parts; within a few minutes, Sandy found another, larger snail shell and took up residence. It was an interesting lesson in marine biology and a greater understanding of the life processes of his pets. Also a relief; funny how you can come to value the lives of some silly little crustaceans. I suppose if they weren't so cute I wouldn't have even been interested to look in on them.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Do Everything as Politely as Possible

We now have three more people in our house--three beautiful young Japanese girls, here for a month to study the English language. It's the second time we've hosted girls from this program, and I'm amazed that we get to have three at a time--that there aren't so many people clamoring for the privilege that we would instead only be entitled to one or two at the most. Their names are Ai, Lina, and Shioli.
We've spent the last number of days unearthing a decent living quarter out of the downstairs where Tim has wrought much havoc in leaving about 10 times too many toys out (high time we went through it and had a garage sale!) and we'd stored some excess furniture for which we now have found other homes...I think the siding workers were skeptical that it would come together, but to my delight and by God's grace, it did. I was going to go buy some blankets and a comforter at Target but remembered on the way, again by God's grace, that our friend Lila had offered to lend me a comforter for them. I called and asked her if she also had any blankets she could lend. She did. I am so thankful! She must have saved me about $100 or more.
The hard thing at this point is knowing how much sleep the girls need or what food they are hungry for. When they arrived, it would have been about 10 a.m. Japan time, but they'd perhaps been sleep-deprived from the trip. Maybe not, though--they and the girls we had before seem to be able to drop off to sleep at a moment's notice; as soon as we get in the van their eyelids start drooping and their heads tip. I call them my wilting blossoms when they do that.
The first day or two they will be very quiet and it's hard to get a reply out of them. I ask them something and they give each other confused looks and maybe discuss it between them in short Japanese comments, and then look blankly back at me. I can't find out whether they slept on the plane, even when I do the little sleep sign (silly enough)--two hands together on one side of the face. (Don't all people know that means sleep?) And then I hold out my arms like the wings of a plane. They laugh. I say, "Did you sleep on the plane?" before and after, and they must be able to understand but they act as if they don't. Maybe they're afraid they'll look as silly as I do.
We frantically made them an American breakfast since they were hungry and it was their morning time (silly again, here, at 4 p.m., no?)--hash browns, scrambled eggs, English muffins--and then sticky rice as a backup. Good thing, too. They wouldn't touch any of that suspicious American food. They each ate a lady-like little bowl of Japanese rice and that was all. Our previous Japanese guests, Shino and Azumi, learned to eat heartily of our food by the time they left, and I think they did like much of it. Only one of them liked scrambled eggs. I hope these three try more of these things before they leave. Tomorrow we'll give them pizza. They sound approvingly familiar with that.
Their first day here must be a sensory overload--new sights, smells, foods, living people who talk funny. We observed how much more careful they are in everything they do, whether eating, talking, opening packages--they don't tear into anything, they eat little tiny bites and you never see their mouths open larger than just to get the food in. I think some of this is nerves, and some is cultural. Still, I suspect we must seem very big and clumsy to them, perhaps justifiably. It gives a new aspect to that phrase, "Get the job done." A very American attitude. Japanese might be, "Do the job as politely as possible."
Tim seems to be the most able to elicit laughter from the girls and to set them at ease. The moment he opens his mouth or does anything mortifying, they think it's hilarious. He brought them outside to meet the neighbor kids, and now there's a game of baseball going on out there. The girls are participating. It's good to see them be more relaxed and happy, and adjusting to this crazy American life.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Throwing away a reputation

Well, a few days back we got a new work crew to work on our siding. The first worker is gone, and they had to undo his work before starting theirs. Before adding the siding, a layer of thick paper-type material goes up, something like those very durable envelopes you get that you can't tear into. The previous worker had put a lot of the paper on sideways, and on the paper it clearly and repeatedly says, "This end up" with a little arrow in case you can't tell by all the words printed in only one direction. There was also a 1-800 number that I called just to make sure how necessary it was to have it upright. Sure enough, it was okay upright or pointing down, but not sideways and not the lowest level lapping over an upper level. Our first worker had made both of these mistakes in various places, in addition to little scraps that he had tacked loosely to cover gaps that he'd left. So not only was he cranky but he was basically not only useless as a worker but a costly detriment as well.
These new workers have done an excellent job so far in applying the paper, and the siding is partway done on the back of the house. I am stunned at how much better it looks than the old siding. They have been slowed by two things--the record heatwave that has hit just lately and a problem that was uncovered in the front entry posts that support our porch roof section. It was another example of costly and detrimental work, this time from the builders (a company that starts with "P" and rhymes with "Olygon," and advertises quite pridefully on the radio about the quality of their building). They had built the posts from ground level, sided them, and poured the concrete around them about 3 feet up--after which the lower portion of the posts were basically replaced with time by moisture and bugs and rot.
I've noticed with other neighbors' houses that the base of their posts were showing signs of rot as ours did just recently. So ours is not an isolated incident. They don't make just one unconscionable act of lousy workmanship--they repeat it, cookie-cutter style, so that various, probably almost innumerable homeowners will have to cope with the inevitable decay that takes place.
It seems that it would have been easier, less expensive, kinder and better in all ways to build the porch properly the first time. Their reputation would be unstained and the buyers would be happier. As far as the first siding worker goes, his job would be secure and other workers would be glad to work alongside him. These bad workers probably have no awareness of what they lose by doing things wrong, of lost reputation and the loss of opportunity that comes as a result.
Proverbs 22:1 A good name is to be more desired than great wealth; Favor is better than silver and gold.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

An Opportunity for Joy, Lost by Ignoring God

Lately we've been having the siding redone on our house. It's been a study in work ethics...unfortunately. The fellow who has been assigned to work on it alone claims to attend a church nearby which, judging by the mailings we've received from it, is an extremely seeker-friendly organization. In view of his work attitude and the church he's attending, I'd expect he's more likely a seeker than a believer. He is an example of "by their fruits you will know them."
I transplanted a number of the plants I valued the most to places away from the work area so that they wouldn't get trampled, and pruned some trees and shrubs to provide more room. It's a good thing too. It appears that occasionally this worker gets frustrated and decides to take it out on one particular house fixture (hose rack or electrical outlet) or various plants. A large dusty miller plant in the front has been trampled to a pulp. So have a couple of strawberry plants and a foxglove in the back. I would expect the occasional plant with a broken branch or a footstep here and there, but not plants trampled down nearly to the cellular level.
He left five ladders set up around our house, including two in front of our garage, and when the work was put on hold for nearly a week, I asked that he would remove the ladders. He said he would either Friday or Saturday; finally today (Sunday) he removed the two in front of the garage.
Our neighbor Stacia came over and told me that after I asked him to move his van so Katie and I could go out in our car, he moved the van in the way of their driveway so her husband Dean could not get out, and that he was also grumbling about the inconvenience of having to move it for us. Well, Dean had to go into the back of our house to find him and ask him to move it again so he could go to work, and our workman acted annoyed. "Right now?" Dean said yes. Right now. So he begrudgingly got down off his platform and moved it again. She also sees him grumbling constantly as he goes about his work.
I can't say all this is beyond my understanding. I'd be annoyed too at being assigned such a huge job all on my own. Besides the fact that I could never have done so much in such a short time let alone a couple of years, myself. Still, if he were a believer, I would hope he would display a little more of the joy that working to the glory of God can bring.
It all boils down to an awareness of God in one's work, as Pastor Sean pointed out while going through Ecclesiastes. If one ignores the presence of God, an opportunity to glorify Him is lost, as is the opportunity for joy.
Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink, and enjoy oneself in all one's labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward. Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God. For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Cooler and Quirky Sleep Time

Yesterday we went to the Fourth of July celebration at the Greens'. We had a lot of things in the van and when we got home late at night, we forgot to bring the cooler into the house. This morning I got up at 7 and cleaned up a bunch of things around the house before I settled down to work on my Excellent Wife Bible study. (I always do this--getting the dishwasher, washer and dryer going helps me feel like even while I sit, things are getting done. I call it getting my "servants" working.) Well, I actually was busy a couple of hours before the study, because first, a neighbor wanted my help sweeping the fireworks rubble from the street, and then the worker came to work on the house siding and I had various things to prepare for his work.
So there I was working on my study finally, and Gary arrived on the scene from his night's sleep. He was still in his pajamas. A couple of times in the midst of conversation he commented how the cooler was still in the van and we should bring it in. Then while he was sitting at the computer, still in those pajamas, he brought it up again. I started to think that maybe the "we" of "we should bring it in" was the same type of "we" that he meant when he said we were winning or losing when he watched a football game on tv. I was getting a little testy with the repeated comment while I was trying to concentrate on my study, so I looked up, and said with a...well, maybe a whine..."Gary..." I looked down at my study, and then had to smile. It was the chapter on "Submission: The Wife's Joy." I looked up at him again, and said with a laugh, "Sorry, Gary, I can't do it. I'm too busy with my Bible study on Submission!"
Here's a funny anecdote not too closely related to this story, but I think it's worth sharing. Later on today, he was telling a neighbor that last night we were up until 2:30 this morning. Hmmm. That didn't make much sense to me. I looked at Katie. She looked confused as well. It seemed to us that we were up until 12:30, late enough but not that late. As we figured it out, we realized that though we were all tired enough to feel as if it were that late, it was indeed only 12:30 and the reason he thought it was 2:30 was because there was something in front of the 1 on the clock in our room. Since it was dark, all he saw were the remaining three digits, and assumed that it was 2:30. I'm glad. We all needed the sleep!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Mixing up Pronouns betrays a Heart of Sin

Have you ever been singing a Christian song, not paying as much attention as you should...well, I know you should ideally always be paying full attention when you're singing a Christian song...(still, I almost constantly have a Christian song going through my head quite spontaneously--any time you ask me what my song for the moment is, I am probably capable to sing or hum it to you--beware though, I just might dare!).

Anyway, often these songs have seemingly interchangeable lines and pronouns--especially to the absent-minded, when the words to the song aren't the focus as much as the tune and rhythm. It is an illustration of sorts, a testimony to my readiness to supplant God's place, if that were possible, in so many ways.

Take these lines in "Who Am I" by Casting Crowns:

Not because of who I am
But because of what You've done
Not because of what I've done
But because of who You are

I can ever-so-adeptly in my seeming absent-mindedness make it say the opposite. (The strange thing is, now when I try to report it, I have a hard time remembering my mangled version!) I think my way goes something like this:

Not because of who You are,
But because of what I've done,
Not because of what You've done,
But because of who I am
(well, by now it usually gets my attention because especially with the amplified volume of that line, it really sounds ridiculous!)

Am I the only one who does this? I hate to think what it says about me...except to remind me that I am simply a sinner, ready when not on the alert to default to a sinner's behavior...and I am saved by grace. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
(I'm aware that the following verse is of a rather different context; still I think it fits and that the application would be appropriate.)
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith...I Peter 5:8-9a

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Excellent Wife Bible study, and memorizing Scripture

Lately I've been doing the Excellent Wife Bible study by Martha Peace, along with Lanae, another woman from church. She was in the same women's Bible study group with me year before last, and I didn't get to know her too well during that time, and have hardly talked to her since until this study. Still, in a five-minute conversation with her, we found by God's provision that we were both intending to do this study this summer and decided to do it together.
I think if I'd tried doing this study a year sooner, I wouldn't have been ready for it. Here I am, 46 years old, having been a Christian since I was 29, and having been married since I was 23. I wish I'd have studied these things back 23 years ago, or 16 years ago...if I had been ready. I've noticed that the study is not only helpful with marriage (a great focus, of course), but since marriage is of course the most vital earthly relationship in our lives, and the study therefore focuses on making the best of that relationship, it is good for all of our relationships in life. I wish there was one that was for young unmarried women, and another for young unmarried men, with a similar setup and without as much emphasis on marriage itself.
Part of what I like about this study is that the author writes with great insight and reasoning.The most impacting portion of this study, though, is of course the Scripture within it. So what I've been doing is what I do whenever I'm trying to memorize Scripture verses: I take the Scriptures that the study references and put them on index cards, and on the other side, I write the first letter of each word in the verse on the back, so I can quiz myself in studying the verse. I rarely can really memorize a verse so that a month later I could tell it to you verbatim, but even without being so sharp as that, I can still get quite familiar with it, and if that's the best I can do, then that is good enough--or at least better than if I never tried.
I take these cards and punch holes in the top so I can put them in a little binder designed for index cards. While I'm focusing on these verses, I keep them there; when I'm done I put them in a little bin of them. I also write what study they're from. Some I've reviewed two or three times since I started on them a number of years ago. At first I was making lots of cards and not putting them in the binder, but then they don't get used and they more or less go to waste--I have enough to fill a shoebox. So now I just make them with that purpose in mind.
This Bible study has a workbook, and so in it I respond to the various issues that are addressed in the book. My friend and I get together at least on the phone, usually once per week, and discuss the lesson. She's much younger than I am and I tell her I envy her learning it so soon in her marriage! What a good thing!
The study is having at least some of its intended effect. I was ready for it. I'm glad I started it, and hope to see that my worst character traits will subside and that I can more consistently be able to be obedient to God, and submissive to my husband as God wants me to be.
Update: Since this writing, I have mentally revised "I was ready for it" to "I thought I was ready for it." The other day, Gary and I had differing points of view as often happens. With this study in mind, I started saying, "You decide, you're the one in auth---auth--well, you decide." I couldn't quite vocalize that thought. But I'm trying. At least the step was in the right direction.