Thursday, May 29, 2008

Getting to Know You

Know that old song from THE KING AND I? Getting to know you, getting to know all about you.

The next line is: Getting to like you...getting to hope you like me.

I'm not sure that applies to Sadie and Sullie. They're trying but their natures get the best of them.
Take this morning, out in the yard. Sadie is sitting with me as I work, when Sullie "happens" to wander by. (She is Satan, you know...alert for every opportunity.)

Sadie can't resist. She jumps up, approaches the cat. Sully does the back-rise/tail-snap routine. Sadie freezes. Sully stares. Sadie takes a cautious step. Sully takes a cautious step. They freeze again, study each other.

Sadie takes a sniff. Sully lowers her tail, tilts her head, about to rub against Sadie's chest when...

...the dumb dog pounces. Sully hisses, swings her claws, and Sadie jumps away.

Sully...all seven pounds of cat...chases Sadie...thirty-five pounds of dumb dog...across the yard and down the hill.

Satan-reference aside, there is definitely a spiritual lesson to be learned here. The question I the kitty? Or the dog?

Depends on the day, I suppose.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Going Home...Finally

It's been a tough nine months, hiking-wise. First I smashed my shoulder in September and had to walk on eggshells all fall and winter. Then I had the thumb surgery, a delicate affair which still requires me to wear a protective splint outside. And of course, Tasha got old and needed me to slow down for her...which I did.

Yesterday I went "home" for the first time since last September when I ruined my shoulder.

I've been up to the ridge--that rocky ledge at nearby conservation land--many times since all these injuries. But I've not been able to complete the rocky trail that loops through many ridges because of one small cliff-like rock that sits in the middle of the trail.

It's not high--maybe fifteen feet. But it requires actual climbing instead of walking, and no way would I risk my surgically-repaired shoulder to best it.

Until yesterday.

I decided it was time to go home again, resume possession of one of the most beautiful and lightly-trails around. I loaded up my backpack, put on my best hiking sneakers, strapped on my splint, and went for it.

The trail was so lovely...and I'd missed it so much! I got to the rock, sized it up, decided yes...time to come home. Climbing it requires wedging your toes into a tiny crevice, grabbing the embedded tree (see picture) in the cliff and hoisting up.

It requires a step of faith. Once you hoist, you need to push up without any handhold until you grab the trunk of the tree. There's that split-second of hoping/praying that momentum will lift you high enough to make the grab. Otherwise, it's slip, crack your chin on the rock, scrape your belly as you slide off, and think, "I'm never going to come this way again," acknowledging the inevitability that there are last times in our lives, though we seldom recognize them until they're long past.

It's not time for the ridge trail to be a last time. No way, not yet.
I secured my pack and my walking stick, made sure my thumb splint was secure, dug my toe in the crevice and my right hand around the tree root...

...and hoisted.
And made it, quite easily. But the thing is, it turned out I didn't need the left (repaired) arm at all. Something I had forgotten. It's not about the pulling with both's about the hoist...stepping out and up in faith.

I didn't conquer the rock. The rock welcomed me. And now I'm home.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Oh No-NO! (Yes, YES!)

Yes, this is about baseball but, like most discussions about baseball, it’s a whole lot more.

You see, Jon Lester pitched a no-hitter last night for the Boston Red Sox. No-hitters are wonderful because they are rare, but something even more rare than a sports milestone happened last night in Fenway Park.

Nineteen months ago, in the middle of pitching his rookie year for the Red Sox, Jon Lester was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Apparently, if a young adult HAS to have cancer, this is one to have, with a 90+% cure rate. But cancer is cancer, and when Red Sox nation were informed of the 22-year-old Lester’s diagnosis, millions of people gasped, and held their stomachs. People get cancer every day, and it’s never fair, especially in someone so young. But to see it play out on the public stage like that was a grim reminder that this ugly reminder of a fallen creation is always lurking, striking young and old, rich and poor, talented or ordinary when we least expect it.

Lester got a clean bill of health right before spring training 2007 and was ‘allowed’ by medical folks, the Boston Red Sox, and his millions of brothers, sisters, mom’s and dad’s to come to camp. The Red Sox wisely started him in the minor leagues last year because no one wanted to risk his health (except Lester himself, perhaps). His first game back in the majors was in Cleveland later that season, with his parents flying in from the West Coast to watch. The cameras kept cutting to his parents, especially his mother, and I wanted to cry with her.

Last night, I swear I heard Mrs. Lester whoop for joy from 3000 miles away.

This past Sunday, I asked my class on Ezra when the last time they experienced a genuine and pure yelp of joy. Like no-hitters, perhaps they are too rare. One member of our study suggested that God intends such ebullient expressions to be an customary (though heart-felt) part of worship. We agreed in principle though, as New Englanders, we looked at each other and wondered if any of us would dare to leap and raise our hands high to the Lord.

Which is why last night was so special. Less than a year ago, another young Red Sox pitcher pitched a no-hitter. Yes—they are rare but we’ve been doubly blessed. We were thrilled for Clay Buchholz and danced the happy dance but it’s not the same as watching Jon Lester return to the game last summer, pitch the winning game of last fall’s World Series, and deliver an astounding performance last night.

Sports allows us to whoop for joy.

God’s majesty requires us to.

Thanks, Jon, and thank you, Jesus.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

You Can't See Me! (nyah nyah)

Or so Sullie thinks, as she "hides" from Sadie.

Are my hiding places from God just as flimsy?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Lessons Learned Hiking Glen Eyrie

After the conference at Glen Eyrie (Colorado Springs/two weeks ago), I stayed for a couple of days of hiking. This was an exercise in faith (or perhaps foolishness), given I would be climbing with a broken toe. But Glen Eyrie is an astoundingly beautiful corner of God’s creation and no way could I not hike.

My biggest adventure was the Garden of the Gods overlook trail, deemed “difficult” by the Glen. Moderate by New Hampshire standards, the trail was only difficult because of the first lesson I—as a long-time hiker—should already know.

Lesson 1. Not all turns are marked.
By the time I followed a level trail to a lovely but non-spectacular look-out, I realized I must have missed the turn-off from the main trail. Hence:

Lesson 2—It’s no sin to back track.
In fact, back-tracking can be downright wise, even though it did not help me discover the trail turn-off (which I have since learned from other experienced GE hikers is apparently not marked or obvious).

I knew the Garden of the Gods trail left this one. I just didn’t remember exactly where it should and didn’t backtrack far enough. Which leads me to:

Lesson 3—It’s not enough to consult the map.
If I had either memorized the map or brought it with me, I would have realized the turn-off for the GG trail came very, very quickly. I had assumed it would be obvious so I just hiked on and on until it was abundantly clear I had missed it long ago.

This misunderstanding led me to climb what I hoped was the turn-off but what in reality was a very steep deer/elk trail. Because it was so steep and sandy, I had to rely on the occasional rock outcropping and the brush to keep from slipping down the hill. Which brings me to:

Lesson 4—If you’re going to reach for a branch, make sure it’s alive.
Otherwise, it’ll break off in your hand. The trick is recognizing signs of life on brush that hasn’t budded yet for the spring. I won’t go into a horticultural discussion here but the best test is a tug and then a yank. A branch without sap will be dry and break away. A branch with the lifeblood still in it will hold.

Climbing almost straight up would have been impossible four days earlier, when I was still unaccustomed to the altitude. By the time I attempted this climb, my body had churned out enough extra red blood cells to acclimate me to breathing. Which reminds me of:

Lesson 5—Good breathing takes time and practice.
On Sunday at the Glen, I couldn’t even climb stairs without huffing. By Thursday, I could hike two hours and still sing.

This little detour finally brought me to where I could see the path. However, I had to cross some grassy soil before actually getting onto the path. I was on level ground again but the trick here was that there were tiny cacti among the grass. Since I was wearing socks and sandals due to my broken foot, I had to watch every step so not to get pricked. Those needles are barbed and rotten to get out once you’re stuck. Which brings me to:

Lesson 6—It’s not cowardly to test every step if the circumstances call for it.
I was now on the right trail, one that climbed a series of steep hills. Every time I thought I had to be approaching the final hill, I’d crest it to discover another. Which is how I learned:

Lesson 7—Trudging can be a gift.
I supposed knowing when to turn back is also a gift but no way, not after following the wrong trail to its conclusion, backtracking, climbing a steep deer trail, and braving a field of cacti-laced grass. No way. So I trudged and trudged. Though the air was 45 degrees and the wind harsh, I was soaked with sweat.

So I trudged on and on until finally I crested the last hill and beheld what I couldn’t from any of the lower hills. The photo of the snow-covered Rockies and Pike’s Peak cannot do the reality justice.

I sat down on the bench and beheld the glory of what God has given us. And quickly learned:

Lesson 8—Don’t be deceived by circumstances.
I rapidly cooled and, with high winds, had to pull on my ski hat, jacket, etc. even as the sweat still clung to my skin. I had to tilt away from the sun because, though circumstances felt like winter, the truth was it was May and high altitude—a prescription for a terrible sunburn.

I hated to go down but—in this side of heaven—one can only drink in so much beauty. So I started down the nice, clear path and remembered something I know from mountain climbing in New Hampshire.

Lesson 9—It’s oftentimes harder to go down than up.
Going up, your weight leans into the slope and your momentum opposes gravity. Coming down, your momentum, weight, and gravity conspire. Not a bad thing if we’re talking stairs or a road but when it’s a path with very loose sand, coming down can be downright treacherous. Which reminded me of something I should have known:

Lesson 10—Use a walking stick.
Next year I’ll be sure to pack mine.

I arrived at the dining hall, my legs like deadwood.

Four hours later, I went out for another hike. Better prepared, though still with lessons to be learned.

It wasn’t lost on me then, and still isn’t that each one of these lessons is a tremendous spiritual analogy.

I report. You decide.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Hemmed In

The woods are getting smaller and smaller.

First the beaver pond and environs was declared “No Trespassing” because of the ATV’s, dirt bikes, and snowmobiles. Then the back side of the hill—a huge territory—was posted “Keep Out” for the same reason. Okay, I thought. Once the forester leaves, we’ll have all these news paths on this side of the hill to enjoy.

We all know how that turned out—he left without cleaning up his mess. The woods on this side are nearly or completely impassable in places.

Okay. I’ve still got all the conservation land to enjoy. Both Pepperell, MA and Hollis, NH have been magnificent in setting aside large tracts for woods for the public to enjoy.

But I can’t enjoy them because, for the first time ever, the black flies (“no-see-um’s”) are swarming me. I used to be sorry for both Steve and Marj, who are succulent targets for these miniscule tyrants. “They never bite me,” I would say, injecting suitable regret that two people I love are so terrorized.
They’re biting me this year, in droves. I cannot go in any woods without being circled and snacked on. It’s to the point of intolerant, so I stand in my woods and wonder “What is going on?”

Is God hemming me in? That’s sure what it feels like. (And yes, I know it’s not all about me but circumstances are conspiring…)

I’m supposed to embrace this, am I not? Psalm 139 speaks to this so beautifully:

O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.

You hem me in--behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

You have laid your hand upon me. I’ve always loved this concept.

I’m hemmed in at home, with my son’s family living with me. They are a joy and a blessing but I’ve still to learn how to focus without wanting to go play with my grandson or walk in the yard (no woods, drat!) with my grandpup.

Am I guilty of what the psalm speaks of in the most beautiful of poetry?

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths,A you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

Do I long to be with a dog when I walk so I don’t have to be with God? Slow to anger, full of love, abounding in compassion—why would I flee when His Spirit pours these wonders out on His children?

Today it’s raining. Driving rain or bitter cold, even a blizzard won’t stop me from walking. Am I racing to God, or flying away? If I buy a netted hat, will I be further hemmed in? Will I resume my walking—to or away from my Creator?

When Sadie or Maddie strains on their leash, we who love them hold them fast.

His right hand holds me fast.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


And it feels like home because there's now a dog living here.

It's taking a little getting used to. Tasha had been deaf for so long, I forgot what it's like for a dog to react to noises we humans can't possibly hear.

BadCat's also had her adjustment period. She spent a week in the cellar, cowering. I finally loaded her into her cat carrier and brought her up into our bedroom for a change of scenery. Sadie came running after her and BadCat finally had enough--she struck hard. Sadie yelped away and now there's an uneasy truce between the two. Sullie is back roaming house and yard, and Sadie follows at a respectful distance.

Sadie is having walks in our woods, bounding over the barriers of limbs and tree trunks the forester left. I'm eager to walk her on the conservation land but I need to wait until I know she respects my call and will come every time. (She's about 2/3s there.) Until then, we'll stay close to home.

Nice to know God doesn't just live in Colorado.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Doggie Envy

We now have a new dog at our home, our 'grandpup' Sadie. Unfortunately, I only saw her in passing, since my son's family moved in Saturday night and I left 3:30 AM Sunday. We had a moment to sit down and watch the Sox game, and I was envious because Sadie curled up on the floor next to Steve. I am convinced she will have no room left in her heart for me after a week with him.

Here at Glen Eyrie, I climbed up to the Dorothy Fall's. It was spectacular, a testament to the beauty of creation. I'll post more tomorrow but God fills those canyons with his grace.

When I got to the falls, I sat and enjoyed the music of water crashing into a clear pool. Beyond the falls, one can climb even higher but I didn't have time. A young couple came down from the upper peak, their skinny, part-yellow lab mutt with them. Suddenly, the only beauty I had eyes for was this dog. He was shy, wouldn't come to me until I offered a pretzel. Even then, he got only close enough to snatch the pretezel away. I couldn't take my eyes off him, even though as dogs go, he was pretty odd looking. Very skinny, with big, almost German-shepherd ears.

To me, he looked like heaven. Angie Hunt and Nancy Rue have two dogs, and I have to live on imagined hugs from Lab puppies and Mastiff wonders all week. To see a real dog was a real treat.

I have another couple days here, and will soak in God's glory and--if I'm scratch that, humble...I'll seek His face.

But it's so much easier when I have a dog at my side.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Not What I Planned For

I'm in Colorado, having just finished teaching at a writers' conference at the spectacular Glen Eyrie. I was privileged (and amused/encouraged/inspired) to teach with Angie Hunt, Nancy Rue, and Alton Gansky. I was blessed to spend time with our own Kay Day and the Accidental Poet. Too many wonders to recount but the weather was spectacular and I couldn't wait for today--the beginning of my two-and-a-half day retreat--so I could do some serious hiking.

Yesterday was in the high 70s and, after the official close of the conference, I hiked up to a lovely waterfall.

Today is May 1. It snowed. This morning, the snow was so bad, I couldn't read the road signs on my way to an appointment. I had to slow to a stop in the middle of the road, and try to make out the writing through the snow flying sideway and under the snow stuck to the signs. This afternoon the snow lessened but the wind picked up, a nasty chill.

I had planned for sun and fun. Given that my proclamation to the conference was entitled "This Wasn't What I Had Planned," I suppose today was appropriate. God is allowed to throw curve balls whenever He deems suitable.

I can only hope tomorrow will be a meatball, right down the middle. Brrrr.