Pumpkin Time

OK, I have some pretty opinionated thoughts about decorating for the holidays.  They are as follows:  First:  pumpkins are NOT to be placed out until the month of October — no matter HOW much anyone may wish for it to be autumn.  Second:  Halloween decorations should not be placed out before the middle of October.  Like it or not that’s plenty of time to scare the crap out of your neighbors.  Third:  pumpkins (note:  not jack-o’-lanterns) may stay until the first day of December.  Christmas decorations may ONLY be placed out once Advent has begun.  If you are a practicing Christian, you should know this — it begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day.  Christmas decorations are to REMAIN THROUGH EPIPHANY!  That means January 6 — not the first day of the New Year you heathens!  It took the Magi that long to see the new born King.  If you really want to get technical — the baby Jesus should not make His appearance in nativity scenes until Christmas Day; the day on which He was born.  It makes me personally CRAZY to see Christmas decorations up before Thanksgiving and then stripped bare right after the New Year.  No wonder so many people become depressed!  If I were someone like Martha Stewart, I swear I would seriously try to implement this as an accepted standard.  The American businesswoman and television personality (Martha Stewart) is credited with having said:

“The ultimate goal is to be an interesting, useful, wholesome person.  If you’re successful on top of that, then you’re way ahead of everybody.”

I hope to be all of those things.  However, I would settle for everyone adhering to pumpkin time.

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Let My Walking Do My Talking

l love Saint Francis of Assisi.  He is all over our house, both inside and out.  As many may know, he is the Patron Saint of the Environment.  So the easy way to spot him in gardens or churches is to look for the birds on his shoulder or a wolf at his side.  Francis had much love for animals, with a special fondness for the birds.  He liked to refer to animals as his brothers and sisters.  Legend has it that wild animals had no fear of Francis and even came to him seeking refuge from harm.  Poor St. Francis endures a lot around our house.  Our bad cats have gnawed on his birds and rubbed their cheeks on his outstretched hands, perhaps taking his welcome too literally.  I have two wooden carvings of him that I bought on different trips to Santa Fe years ago.  His hands have fallen off on both from the kitties’ fervent cheek scratching.  I have tried wood glue, Superglue, Gorilla glue, and every other kind of glue one can think of — all to no avail.  So his hands rest ineffectually near his feet until I can somehow find a way to get them back on for good.  In this picture he is sporting a duster like a French chapeau which the cleaning lady left behind.  Some people mistake those who have images of St. Francis around as a form of idolatry.  His presence is not meant to worship; rather it is to emulate.  Seeing him inspires me to try and live as he lived.  He gave animals far more credit than anyone else, particularly for his time.  I try not to have leather or eat animal products because of the ruthless cruelty involved in their killing.  I have been ridiculed for it at times but I know I am doing what is right in my heart.  One of my favorite quotes from St. Francis of Assisi is this:  “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”  I am continually striving to let my walking do my talking.

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Seeing The Unseen

Today was Pentecost and the day which, in the Episcopal and Anglican church at least, one is encouraged to wear red.  It represents the descent of the Holy Spirit and the tongues of fire which God bestowed upon man in every spoken language of the world.  The English author and U.S. resident Os Guinness said:

“The story of Christian reformation, revival, and renaissance underscores that the darkest hour is often just before the dawn, so we should always be people of hope and prayer, not gloom and defeatism.  God the Holy Spirit can turn the situation around in five minutes.”

What an empowering statement:  to turn ourselves toward hope and prayer and not give in to gloom and defeatism.  My father was an avid believer in this concept, and he instilled it deeply in me.  He was reared by his Choctaw grandmother whom, I was told, had an incredibly deep faith.  Her faith was so powerful I believe it has carried its way to me and, I fervently pray, it will continue on into my daughter as well.  Faith is something one cannot see; it simply must be accepted.  Some may call this foolish.  I believe it is a priceless legacy far more precious than gold.  It is the concept of eternal salvation and a belief in something bigger than ourselves.  The Church speaks of “Holy Mysteries.”  Was Jonah really swallowed by a whale?  No way, people say.  It’s just a cute story told to children in Sunday school.  And yet a man by the name of James Bartley is said to have been swallowed whole by a sperm whale.  He was found days later in the stomach of the whale, which was dead from constipation.  This took place in the late nineteenth-century … not in “Biblical times.”  The story of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood is one of the most famous in the Bible, and yet people have dismissed it as something of a fairy tale or an allegory.  Several years ago an acclaimed underwater archeologist found scientific proof that the Biblical flood was indeed based upon actual events.  I believe.  I believe in the tongues of fire set forth by the Holy Spirit on this day.  Is it hard for me?  My rational mind can certainly reject it.  In the end that is the embodiment of faith.  It is in seeing the unseen.

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The Kiss Of Angels’ Wings

There are so many things that come to mind when I think of wings:  birds, angels, “lightening bugs” and even the sky in general.  My little red headed mother loved cardinals and they say when you see them it is a sign that your loved ones who have crossed over are still near.  I have always associated my mother with cardinals anyway so when I hear their lovely call or catch a flash of red I immediately think of her.  We have dragonflies in our pond and for some reason I have always associated them with my father.  I took this picture of one who alighted upon Frasier Crane and then paused for a few moments, allowing me to admire him.  Our lawn man, who is from a different culture, noticed it and I was shocked when he somewhat reluctantly said that many people believe dragonflies are a sign of departed loved ones who are coming to visit.  Who is to say whether or not that is true?  Some say our loved ones become angels who watch over us.  Regardless, the Bible has referenced angels appearing from the beginning in the Book of Genesis to the end in the Book of Revelation.  The French Enlightenment writer and philosopher Voltaire once said:

“It is not known precisely where angels dwell whether in the air, the void, or the planets.  It has not been God’s pleasure that we should be informed of their abode.”

Any tangible reminder or remembered emotion of my parents is so precious it feels as if I have been kissed by angels’ wings.  I certainly believe God is gracious and grants us signs.  I often wonder how many I have missed.  A couple of my mother’s scarves and pieces of her jewelry have simply turned up.  I would like to think it is her way of showing she is still around; I know I certainly still need and wish for her to be; my father as well.  I found an old penny the other day out of the blue.  Daddy used to love old pennies and he kept rolls of them.  We do not even have change anymore and yet pennies still will turn up in our house.  I believe in pennies from heaven.  And I believe in the kiss of angels’ wings.

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Too Cushy

We have had the same outdoor cushions for ten years now and, frankly, they were getting sort of gross.  My mother-in-law was kind enough to buy them for us but they had simply outlived themselves.  I still have a pretty difficult time replacing things.  We once had a vacuum for over 20 years when I was growing up and my mother used to say Daddy spent more money fixing the old one than it would have cost to get a new one.  It’s funny how things don’t seem so bad until you replace something else.  With our beautiful new fence in place the old cushions looked even worse.  So I searched for some inexpensive ones that fit and I think look great!  My mother-in-law had given me her grandmother’s beautiful outdoor glass table which holds ten chairs.  Only six fit nicely on our porch with the table and two of the chairs are outside together nearby.  The other two are on the other side of our house overlooking our koi pond.  I dug and dug at the store but could only find six matching orange/red cushions.  I used to work retail in college so I know my way around.  After more intensive scouring in another part of the store, I managed to unearth another two.  But I still needed two more!  The whole hour was about to have been for naught when it occurred to me — why not make the separate two a different color?  Et voilà!  I think the blue looks so beautiful next to the Virgin Mary!  These cushions are but a microcosm of how I believe the Lord works.  This may be a trivial example but I trust you understand the larger point.  Just when you think your work and plans are ruined, God reveals something better He had in store for you, only you could not see at the time.  The American pastor John C. Maxwell said:

“Failed plans should not be interpreted as a failed vision.  Visions don’t change, they are only refined.  Plans rarely stay the same, and are scrapped or adjusted as needed.  Be stubborn about the vision, but flexible with your plan.”

I will continue to have goals and make plans, but keeping in mind God may have something better, I think I just won’t get too cushy.

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FROG More And FEAR Less

I have always enjoyed a good acronym.  I especially like it when one actually spells something that doubles as a sensical word; they are quick and clever monikers.  My little one was sporting a frog stamp on the top of her hand when a lady noticed it and commented on it.  So proud, my daughter was only too thrilled to whip out her little stamp pad she’d received in an Easter egg and offer the woman a frog of her own.  I was surprised when the lady said yes, thinking she was a very good sport.  She said it was perfect and that it carried personal meaning for her.  When I gave her an inquiring look she responded, “Faithfully (or Fully) Rely On God.”  Then I found out she was also a minister.  I thanked her for sharing that with us and said I had never heard that one before.  Admiring her hand happily, she turned to my little girl and asked if she would please put a frog stamp on top of her other one as well.  She was more than happy to oblige.  The poor woman could easily have been covered from head to toe in frog stamps without much provocation.  Neale Donald Walsch, the American author of “Conversations with God,” wrote:  “‘FEAR’ is an acronym in the English language for ‘False Evidence Appearing Real.'”  I also have a penchant for alliteration.  I could not help but notice both of these words begin with the same letter.  From now on I am going to try and resolve to FROG more and FEAR less.

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Sweetie And Her Brood

Growing up my parents always celebrated the sacred and the secular.  Of course the sacred was what was truly important, but they also saw nothing wrong with creating a little earthly joy to celebrate along with the heavenly one.  For the past week (Holy Week, for Christians) I have tried to answer my five year old’s in depth questions about death, blood, and bones.  Of course I want her to understand Christ’s crucifixion, but I see nothing wrong with letting her delight in the joys of chocolate shaped animals, finding candy eggs, and having a small Easter gift or two.  I got an Easter basket from my mother until I left home.  I always looked forward to it and she loved to do it.  I want to continue that for my daughter, only I think I may always give her an Easter basket.  The first time my mother and I went back to Santa Fe after my father died was a tough one.  In one of our favorite stores on the plaza that year my mother saw a set of folk art cats she fell in love with.  Carved from wood, there was an orange mama cat with her four little kittens all in varying colors and they were nursing,  It was one of the cutest things we had ever seen.  She bought them and named the mother cat Molly.  When my mother passed I placed them carefully on her cedar chest that now resides in our loft where our daughter plays.  She has always loved the kittens, but I told her to please leave them because they were Nana’s and not toys.  I try to be a thoughtful gift giver and I am a big fan of catalogs.  A few months ago I discovered this cloth version of Molly and her kittens and I knew it would be the perfect gift for her Easter basket.  So I crept down in the early morning hours praying to avoid detection and assembled her Easter basket.  I made sure to be “asleep” when my little one went into the kitchen and discovered it.  I heard a high pitched squeal of shock and joy followed by thundering footsteps which became louder and more tremorous the closer she became.  “MAMA!  MAMA!  WAKE UP!” she shouted perilously close to my eardrum as she began tugging on my arm.  “What is it?” I asked.  “JUST COME SEE!!!  COME SEE!!!”  I gave Daddy a discreet poke in the ribs because I knew he would not want to sleep through this.  “Well, let’s wait for your father” I said as she raced to the other side of the bed to get him up.  Within minutes she had us dutifully following her down the steps.  Standing on her tiptoes, I realized bittersweetly she could already reach the kitchen light.  “LOOK!” she exclaimed as I watched Burk’s face genuinely light up:  part surprise and part predatory wolf eyeing the chocolate.  “It’s just like Nana’s!” she exclaimed, referring to the cats.  She hadn’t even touched her basket until we came down.  As she carefully took her cat family out I asked what she was going to name the mama.  “Sweetie,” she promptly declared.  The cutest part is that the kittens are magnetized as well as the mama cat’s “dinners.”  She came with six magnetized nipples so the kittens don’t get lost and they can nurse wherever they please.  We added four to our little family of three in church today and caused something of a small stir.  There was joy as we celebrated Christ’s resurrection on the cross and for the saving grace of life after death.  The Swiss theologian Karl Barth once said, “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”  Also present was simple gratitude … for Sweetie and her brood.

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Send, Save, And Spend

Growing up I did not receive an allowance.  I was simply expected to do my chores.  I also did not get paid for getting straight A’s; it was expected of me from my parents that I do my best.  I do remember looking forward to the end of every report card though.  Daddy always took me to get a chocolate dipped ice cream cone as a treat.  When I got married and after we had the baby my husband and I agreed she would not be paid for doing what was expected of her.  I have found though that incentives are a powerful motivator and I do not like always using food.  Burk’s mother was recently in town and was teaching her to read and write different words.  She told her that for every one she got correct she would giver her a quarter.  Pretty soon her four quarters turned into a dollar and it was also a great way for her to get in some math as well.  My little one wound up very proud of her haul, which wound up being three dollars.  “You’re rich!” I told her as we left and she just smiled, clutching the bills in her little hand.  Looking back I realize it would have been beneficial for me to have actually handled some money as a small child before I turned fourteen and started my first real job.  The three bills reminded me of the Holy Trinity and I asked her what she wanted to do with her earnings.  When she shrugged I suggested she could give one dollar to God in church, she could save one, and the last she could just spend and enjoy.  She loved the idea and eagerly awaited putting the first money that she had ever earned into the collection plate.  She was so proud!  I almost caught it too late but I have this picture that captured the moment.  Then I got chided by my five year old as she whispered scoldingly, “Mama you are not supposed to have your iPhone out in church!”  Feeling duly chastised, I put it away.  In 2 Corinthians 9:7 it says:

Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.

My little girl sent her offering to God with a truly cheerful heart.  I am so very proud of her.  I hope she will continue to put God first by tithing to help others in need and showing obedience to the Lord.  I hope she will have the discipline to save for the future.  And I hope she will be fortunate enough to have a little money to splurge with just for her pleasure.  I pray this sets a precedent for her to responsibly send, save, and spend.

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Ash Wednesday

I don’t know about you, but I love seeing people in the middle of the day going about their regular jobs and routines with a very discernible ash cross that has been marked on their forehead.  I think a lot of Catholics try to celebrate the noon mass, and personally I believe it is the most visible Christian witness made during the entire calendar year.  Christians are sent out into the world marked in such a way that to me supersedes even wearing a cross daily.  It is a seal placed upon their forehead which means they are a follower of Christ.  I have mentioned we are Episcopalian; Roman Catholics are not the only Christian denomination to dispense ashes.  We prefer to attend the evening service so that we can all be together as a family.  The imposition of ashes is such a powerful statement of faith.  I love seeing people from the receptionist at the dentist’s office to the bagger at the grocery store bearing the most recognizable sign of Christianity on their forehead for all to see and without shame.  We are blessed to live in a country where we may do so without fear of reprisal.  I wrote last year about the significance of ashes and quoted the reading from Genesis that reminds us all of our mortality.  You may look for it at the bottom of my blog if you wish by typing, “Dust In The Wind” in the search bar.  This year I wanted to quote Psalm 103:8-14:

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy:  long-suffering, and of great goodness.  He will not alway be chiding:  neither keepeth he his anger forever.  He hath not dealt with us after our sins:  nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.  For look how high the heaven is in comparison of the earth:  so great is his mercy also toward them that fear him.  Look how wide also the east is from the west:  so far hath he set our sins from us.  Yea, like a father pitieth his own children:  even so is the Lord merciful unto them that fear him.  For he knoweth whereof we are made:  he remembereth that we are but dust.

I do not know that anyone likes to think about death.  I choose to focus on the Eternal Salvation we are promised for accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior because of the great sacrifice He made for the sins of us all on the cross.  For those who are practicing, I wish you all a blessed Lenten season, beginning with Ash Wednesday.

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By Water

Today is the first Sunday after Epiphany and it celebrates the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The feast day is a commemoration of Jesus’ baptism by his cousin John the Baptist in the Jordan River.  In Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran churches baptisms are held on this Holy Day.  Our little one was baptized on this day when she was less than three months old.  Today when I showed her this picture that seemed so long ago and yet just a mere moment passed in time, she said with excited recognition that she knew our Bishop, the man here who baptized her.  As I tied the white satin ribbons on her shoes in church today I thought back to that day and how her feet were so tiny she could not even wear her exquisite christening shoes.  Her gown covered them but I loved seeing her baby doll bare feet and toes.  Christ himself must have walked into that water in His bare feet.  The lyrics from today’s communion motet were taken from the Song of Solomon:

Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm, for love is strong as death; many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.

I have always loved this scripture.  We are sealed and marked as Christ’s own in the book of life by water.

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