Gratitude Adjustment

Henry Face

When you live with a dog like Henry, you come to understand that every encounter with him, no matter how innocent, holds the potential for trouble.

But sometimes my little warning bells go dormant, probably so they can recover from overuse. Consequently, when I’m in my bathroom, digging out cleaning supplies from under the counter, and I hear the telltale scraping sound that I know is Henry’s paw against the bathroom doors, I don’t think too much about it. Well, other than crud, more scratches to fix.

The door cracks open and Henry’s nose peeks through. Then he pushes the door wide and stands there surveying me.

I hold up some clorox wipes. “I’m cleaning.”

He eyes me with a look that says, “Yeah, but how do I know you’re not planning to take those wipes for a walk instead of me?”

I set the container down with a solid thud that says I’ll be scrubbing not walking. Then I start to move everything else off the counter.

I feel Henry’s gaze on me as I transfer our countertop clock to the edge of the bathtub, followed by the soap dish, the Kleenex box, and the toothbrush holder.

Then I set to work on washing the counter and sink.

Henry’s toenails click clack across the floor, and I hear him sniffing the air.

“Seriously, Henry. Just cleaning. You’ve seen it all before.”

I glance back and find him watching me. Apparently this is the most fascinating thing in his life right now. Sadly, mine too.

I turn back to my dirty sink and pretend I don’t notice Henry’s staring and his sniff, sniff, sniffing.

Why did Alan and I think white was a good color for a sink anyway? Couldn’t we have chosen a nice beige? Something the shade of soap scum so I wouldn’t have to clean as often?

I hear an odd sound behind me. I ignore it because I’ve just discovered that if you pull too hard trying to fix the drain plug thingy that you think isn’t sitting right, it comes all the way out.

Oops.

Hopefully I can reseat it.

Then my little warning bells whine back to life, and I realize there’s a voice in my head saying, “Hey, there’s a slurp, slurp, slurping sound, and I don’t know what that could be other than Henry doing something bad with Alan’s toothbrush.”

I whirl around.

Henry’s gaze is fixed on the toothbrush, his nose maybe eight inches from it.

He swings his head my way, and his eyes say, “What are ya lookin’ at me for?”

Hmm. How to reconcile Henry’s face of pure innocence with the strange slurping sound?

Can you afford to take any chances with your toothbrush?

Definitely not.

But in this case, it’s Alan’s toothbrush.

The next question is, do I really want to go all the way to the store to get him a new toothbrush when I’ve got a million things to get done today?

Maybe Henry didn’t slurp on it after all.

I look at Henry. He looks at me.

What’s a wife to do?

Honestly, I don’t know which way this is going to fall.

Then I remember some new toothbrushes—dentist-office freebies—that we have tucked away somewhere, so I’m saved from the test of whether I’m a rotten person or not.

Henry watches as I rake through the contents of the cabinet, pull out a new toothbrush—same color and everything—and swap it for Alan’s old one. Alan’ll never notice the pristine condition—he’s absent minded that way.

Given my busy schedule, my hubby likely has more reason than he knows of to be happy for those dentist-office freebies.

That gets me thinking. I believe God is sovereign. That He does, in fact, run the universe. How many things has God saved me from, while I remain blissfully unaware?

I’m quick to get frustrated when I see something go wrong in my life, but I never consider, let alone gratefully acknowledge, how many unseen things go right.

I need a gratitude adjustment. A commitment to cut off complaints with a word of thanks.

Because God knows I have more reasons than I know of to be thankful for God’s version of dentist-office freebies.


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Do you need a gratitude adjustment? (Click to tweet)

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Still Surviving Henry: The Untold Stories

Still Surviving Henry Cover_800px

Yep. The long awaited sequel is now unleashed on the public. And the big news is:

IT’S FREE!

For a limited time, mind you. So get your copy now. And feel free to tell all your friends!

Here’s a blurb about the book:

Still Surviving Henry: The Untold Stories

The rogue torpedo of a dog is at it again!

Henry hauls author Erin Taylor Young and her readers into mischief, mayhem, hilarity, and heartwarming adventure. Come join Henry, canine catastrophe extraordinaire, as he romps through an all new collection of true life—and near-death—tales. You’ll laugh yourself silly—and maybe even shed a tear or two—as Henry shows that there’s a lot more to life than merely surviving.

For anyone who’s read Young’s first book, Surviving Henry: Adventures in Loving a Canine Catastrophe, it won’t be a surprise to learn that she couldn’t fit all his antics into one book. For readers who haven’t yet met Henry, here’s to your full-tilt initiation.

AVAILABLE AT:
Amazon Kindle
iBooks
B & N Nook
Kobo

 

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Good-Deed Fail

Squirrel cramming food in his mouth

Dear God,

I’d like to bring Your attention to an issue I call Good-Deed Fail. Good deeds are obviously nice and important and all that, so I’m sure You want to encourage us to do them. Therefore, I feel like You oughta be doing Your part to make sure those good deeds go smoothly.

This does not appear to match my experience.

Take the Bird Food Incident, for example. I’m unburying my laundry room counter, sifting through piles of mittens, rags, and half-empty detergent bottles, when I discover my long lost bag of birdseed. Surely I ought to feed the birds this very moment. They’ve missed out on my offerings all winter.

So I slog out to my backyard still mushy from the spring thaw, and pour a long row of seed along our flat, wide fence cap. Do I complain about my wet feet and how much I hate that? No. I focus on my feathered friends’ needs.

I can’t wait to watch cardinals, juncos, sparrows, robins, blue jays, and other cute, winged things I don’t know the names of come partake of my feast. I hurry inside and dig out my bird book in case something really cool shows up.

Something does show up.

Big. Fat. Squirrels.

Why would I want to waste my time and money—seeds ain’t cheap, You know—feeding a bunch of belly-dragging rodents? I mean, if they’re scrawny, I guess I’m okay with that. But these guys need Weight Watchers intervention.

So what do those porkers do? They shove grub into their mouths while I stand by the window plotting what I would do if I had a shotgun. Which I don’t.

Then Henry, the periodically insane dog You’ve seen fit to give me, senses quarry. A little grin creases my face. You’ve provided the perfect solution to the pilfering troublemakers.

I release my secret weapon.

Why, oh why don’t I consider the consequences of Henry’s paws pounding along a large stretch of muddy, spongy sod?

He splatters to the fence and terrifies those creeping critters halfway to cardiac arrest. They disappear up the nearest tree without snatching a seed for the road. But my dog can pack a huge wad of gunk under his toenails and between his toes, to say nothing of his mud-mottled coat.

God, couldn’t You have made it a dry, sunny day when I noticed the birdseed bag?

I stand out on the patio, hunched over my hound, and clean grime from his limbs for what seems like six or seven hours. Then I shoo him into the house before he can plow up the entire septic field.

Five minutes later, those rotten rodents shimmy up the fence for another round of the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Henry smashes his nose to the window—another smear I’ll need to wipe up—and cries to go out.

And quivers.

And whimpers.

And jumps up and down like a maniac.

I can cope with my psychotic yoyo only so long before I have to let him loose. He thunders through the mire like a herd of race horses at the Kentucky Derby.

The squirrels—instincts fully functional despite their gorged bellies—skitter to safety. God, how ever did You make four-legged balloons so nimble?

Once they depart, Henry wants to come inside. Which means I have to wipe him down. Again.

And five minutes later? A repeat performance.

Let me be clear about my complaint. I put a bunch of food out, trying to be nice, which merely lures prey that torments my dog’s predictor instinct (which You gave him, I might add). He, in turn, plagues me until I let him loose to traumatize said prey, thus dooming me to another round of Clean-the-Doggie.

So glad I’ve been generous and poured birdseed for a good thirty feet along the fence. Wouldn’t want to spend anything less than all stinking day dealing with my Good-Deed Fail.

What will I do if Henry manages to get his teeth on one of these idiot squirrels? Pray he gets a sudden urge to go vegan?

God, I don’t understand the futility of this endeavor. I mean, okay, a few birds are getting some seeds out of this, between skirmishes of The Battle of the Royally Bulged. But what kind of return on my investment is that? If You want me to do good deeds, I really think they ought to turn out better than this.

In fact, I have some suggestions for You for the next time I try to do something nice.

  1. Please make all good deeds error free, embodying sound intellectual design, so as to always produce observable benefit.
  2. Please make all good deeds efficient, so the benefit clearly surpasses the amount of effort.
  3. Please make all good deeds require little effort. This will make the huge benefit stand out even more.

Thank You for Your attention to this matter. I look forward to serving You soon.

Signed,
Ara Gant, one of Erin’s not-so-very-holy inner voices


Click to tweet: Ever experience Good-Deed Fail?

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What Are You Afraid Of?

Ropes Course

One of my favorite things about the Mount Hermon Writers Conference is its location amidst towering redwoods. Humor me, I live in the flatlands of Oklahoma where trees are basically just overgrown shrubs.

Mount Hermon’s ancient sentinels form a tranquil forest world where you can’t help but hear the voice of God whispering through the leaves.

This year my friend Robin attends the conference with me. She finds me one afternoon, a big smile on her face. “Hey, I just signed up for the ropes course. Wanna do it with me?”

“Mount Hermon has a ropes course?” You’d think I’d know, considering all the years I’ve come here. Then again, maybe I do know, but my brain temporarily misplaced the data. Conference-induced sleep deprivation does that to me. “What’s the course for?”

Robin grins. “Climbing, I guess. Sounds like an adventure.”

Sleep deprivation also hinders gross motor skills. I picture myself dangling upside-down by one ankle hopelessly tangled in a rope ladder.

“I think I’m a no.”

Later that day, I see one space left on the signup form. Maybe Robin’s right about adventure. People say stuff like this is fun, and I’ve never been on a ropes course in my life. I should seize the day. I’m probably not too old.

Sleep deprivation impairs judgment, too.

I show up at the meeting spot and find a group of instructors all decked out in harnesses and helmets. They stand next to a tarp with more sets of gear on it.

Hmm. Fancy. Is this the norm or do they just like buckles here? Where’s the course, anyway?

The sound of voices wafts down.

From really high up.

In the trees.

Oh dear.

The course—and why no one explained this sooner, I don’t know—is a cable-and-rope jungle gym, where you tight-rope walk over obstacles, climb nets, walk on trapeze-like swings that swing, cross bridges best described as scant, and in general, willingly maneuver yourself from hazard to hazard.

80 feet up.

Who thought this was a good idea?

Let me confess. I’m afraid of heights.

That’s not entirely accurate. I’m afraid of plummeting from a great height. I mean, not so much the falling part, but the splat at the end. That’s what I have a problem with.

Our instructors smile at us as if no one dies here on a regular basis.

I squint at the treetops. Maybe there’s a lower-tier, scaredy-cat area, like the bunny hill at a ski resort.

Nope.

But I do see a bunch of third graders up there having a jolly time.

Do their parents know they’re doing this?

Robin hustles over to me, excitement shining in her eyes. “I’m so glad you came! They said we need partners, so let’s be together, okay?”

Ummm…

How can I chicken out? There are happy children up there.

The guides take us step-by-step through the whole routine of harnesses, cables, and clasps. Apparently it’s impossible to unclip both safety clasps at the same time, so even in sleep deprivation, I can’t screw this up.

Unless I fall out of the harness.

I cinch the straps tighter around my thighs.

Then tighter yet.

Think tourniquet.

Yeah, okay, loss of blood flow and all that makes it a little risky for my legs, but hey, would I rather lose a limb or plummet to my death?

I hobble behind the group to the training area where the instructors guide us through practice until we prove adept at righting ourselves if we lose our footing. Sounds tricky but we actually manage this in a few short minutes.

Then they send us off.

I mean up.

Much too soon, I stand atop the launch platform, looking down at a whole lot of empty air. A gal could fall a long way.

But my harness is tight, my buckles are fastened, and both clasps are secured to the cable.

It dawns on me…I have a choice to make.

I could carry my fear from tree to tree to tree, or I could trust my gear to keep me safe.

I take another peak over the edge.

My insides do a splat preview.

No…

My gear will keep me safe.

The moment I commit to that choice, my tension sheds like a second skin, and I breathe in the sweet scent of redwoods and pine.

Trust changes everything. (Click to tweet this)

I step off the platform into delight, into adventure. Into the wild whisper of God rustling through the leaves. My whole body tastes the freedom of doing scary things without fear.

I swing, I climb, I dance over bridges.

How simple it all is, this understanding God whispered amidst the leaves.

The difference between fear and adventure is trust. (Click to tweet this)

Oh, that I could live my whole life forever embodying this truth. Because God whispers other things to me, too—hard scary things he wants me to embrace with abandon.

I don’t have to run, I don’t have to fear. I only have to step off the launch platform, convinced every moment that God Almighty holds me tightly in his safety harness, with unbreakable cables and idiot-proof clasps.

No matter what tasks God gives me, no matter what trials I face.

Or what hardships…because there will be those.

My God’s got me.

Sign me up for the adventure.

 

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What’s Your Beat?

Life should come with a warning label that says: Often appears to make no rational sense.

Take my masters degree in music theory and composition. A handful of childhood guitar lessons at the YMCA did not turn me into Segovia. As for singing ability, well, the kindest thing you could say is that it doesn’t, ahem, run in my family.

Which makes it all the more perplexing why I—with my scant musical background and even less natural talent—would consider studying music.

Yet one of the clearest messages God ever gave me was to go get that dang masters degree.

Rhythmically ignorant me had to learn mystical things like beating two against three. This is where, with one hand, you slap your thigh twice for each measure of music, while your other hand slaps three times. It’s the nightmare version of patting your head while rubbing your stomach, because guess what? You get to do it in front of the whole class and get graded.

Phobia of performing in public, anyone?

Then your grimacing teacher, who can’t comprehend your rhythmic retardation because this is preschool-level to him, makes you beat 5 against 4, 6 against 5, and other far worse combinations.

I wanted to wallop a big ol’ 6-against-5 upside the guy’s head, but they’d have thrown me out of school.

What I didn’t realize then was how much I was learning. Not just about the range of, say, a piccolo, or why the heck we need tenor clef, or what Gregorian chant has to do with tonal history.

But about hearing the beat.

Fast forward to today and you’ll notice I turned out to be a different kind of composer. I deal in words, not scales. I still call it music, just a different kind.

In a great irony, I jog every morning to a set playlist of songs, and what keeps me on pace for the last—and hardest—leg is beating 3 against 2. (My teacher would be relieved to know I can finally do this.)

Oh sure, I could slow my pace, but then I wouldn’t make my time goal.

I’m stubborn that way.

So while the snare makes its periodic appearances and disappearances, and the bass hits a syncopated half-beat kick, and the strings run counterpoint to the guitars, and the rhythm of the vocal line dances over the top, my feet have to pound a three against two triplet on the pavement.

To make things tricky, sometimes the beat I need passes from instrument to instrument. Add to the cacophony a brick wall of 20 mph wind roaring in my ears, the creaking of cottonwoods above me, the clamor of our friendly neighborhood kamikaze goose, and you’ve got finely tuned organized chaos.

Kind of like life.

Messy. Dissonant.

But I can still find my beat.

Years of practice, and all.

Plus I had a whole semester of 20th century mishmash music that taught me to appreciate its jumbled beauty. There really is a rational structure that makes sense to its creator.

I believe that creator is God. He’s the master conductor orchestrating this symphony called life.

It’s a music that’s messy and hard, but there’s a beat set by the master that leads us to our purpose. (Click to tweet this)

Through every dissonance, every jumbled cacophony—because that will come—there is nothing to do but focus on the conductor.

His order reigns in the midst of apparent chaos. A purposeful beauty in the intermingling of his instruments.

Even when I falter, he keys on me and guides me back to his tempo, to the part designed specifically for me to play.

His words are the beat I tune to.

No, I cling to.

Because his symphony is incomplete without me.

And without you.

 

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A Matter of Trust

Funny how a walk can be the most exciting event of the day for my dog Henry. I mean, right after the excitement of a cookie dropped on the floor.

I pick up his leash and Henry tears through the house, leaping, dancing, and galloping. Yes, he can do all three at once. Then he barrels full tilt toward the door and always realizes a bit too late when it’s time to put on the brakes. It goes like this: scramble, scramble…mad dash…hit the wood floor…skiiiiiiiiid…face-plant into the six-panel pine.

If I haven’t made it to the door by the time he recovers, his excitement turns to desperation, and he launches another antsy-pants dash through the house. Only he runs folded in half, his head skewed around to see if I’m following him, which means he ricochets through the halls like a blind rhinoceros trapped in an alley too small. It’s a wonder this dog doesn’t knock himself senseless.

When I get to the door, collar and leash in hand, Henry twists, wriggles, and tramps up and down the nearby stairs, because, you know, that makes it so much easier for me to get the collar and leash on him.

And of course he whines nonstop through this entire process because I might SOMEHOW forget he wants to go out.

Not that I don’t try to carry out this whole procedure with some semblance of decorum. I do. But Henry’s not a decorum kind of dog. Still, I won’t open the door until he sits calmly. (His version of this means his rump barely touches the floor and his extremities still twitch.)

Heaven help us if he’s finally prepped and seated at the door, and I forget something and must walk all of ten feet away to retrieve said item. The dog has a panic attack.

For pity’s sake, I’m dressed to take him out, he’s wearing the leash, and I’m still looking right at him. Of course we’re going for a walk. I’m not abandoning him, I’m just getting my hat.

I wish he could see that. Or at least that he could relax and trust me, even if he doesn’t understand my delay.

One day, after months and months of our routine, I have Henry seated precariously at the door when I realize I have yet again forgotten something.

My whole body cringes. “Henry, stay here. I’ve gotta get a doggie-doo bag.”

His eyes flit to me. They’re glazed over with one repeating message, “It’swalktimewalktimewalktimewalktime…”

“Yes, I know it’s walk time. And you’re sitting very nicely. I just need a bag before we can go.”

I take one step and Henry’s twitching elevates.

“I’ll be right back. I promise.”

I could walk him through the house, but it’s easier to dig a baggie out of the drawer if I don’t have his nose digging through the drawer with me. I head around the corner into the kitchen without him, expecting a panicked Henry at my heels any second.

After a good chunk of rummaging, I turn up the last bag we apparently own. I haven’t seen or heard Henry yet, so I hustle back to the door, half worried he keeled over and died.

There he sits, beautifully poised, straight and tall. Alert, but calm. Waiting.

Oh. My. Gosh.

He trusts me.

He finally believes I’ll follow through on my promise. That I won’t bring him to the brink of a goal and then abandon him.

“Henry, I’m so proud of you!” I fawn all over him, giddy not just over his obedience, but over the peace he found in trusting me. It’s been a long time coming. A hard time.

Then God’s voice nudges into my heart. “Henry trusts you, and you delight that he has. So I delight when my children trust me.”

The words drop hard in my gut. Oh, how often I’ve failed in patience, running ahead and slamming into walls. How often I’ve teetered on the ragged edge of panic, trying to sit still but twitching and whining. How often I’ve accused God of abandoning his purpose, his promises.

All he wants me to do is trust.

Even if he takes longer than I want.

Even if it seems God has disappeared from my view.

He isn’t gone. He’s just putting into motion things that need to happen. Working in ways I can’t see or understand any more than Henry can fathom my ways.

I reach for Henry and stroke his fur, filled again with joy for him. At least for today he’s trusting, waiting.

If Henry can do that, so can I. Not only to delight God, but to accept the good he wants for me. Because “blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” (Luke 1:45).

 

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Words

Blue Heron

I probably shouldn’t tell you this. Not when y’all might be still forming your opinion of me, and I don’t want it to be: Poor Erin, she’s sparsely populated in the brain cell department.

Then again, you might as well know the truth.

It all started in my childhood, when our family took a vacation to the wonderfully secluded Chippewa Flowage. Big lake, pretty trees, good fishing. You get the picture.

We rented a cabin on a little peninsula, where we could look out the windows and see a world of flora and fauna. Those were the days before YouTube, cell phones, and video games. Nature was our playground.

Anytime someone’s voice rang through our cabin, “There’s the heron,” you betcha we kids raced to the window to get a gander. There the bird would stand—splendid, stately, wild. King of his territory like the lions I’d seen on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. (No cable TV back then either. With all of five channels to choose from, we thought Wild Kingdom was some pretty cool entertainment.)

I’d watch the heron in silence, awed to share the peninsula with this magnificent creature.

Somewhere in those magical days, the words there’s the heron tucked themselves into my heart. A treasure from days gone by.

Fast forward to my adulthood. My parents buy a home on Lake of the Ozarks. I visit a lot because, you know, I still like nature. And fishing.

One day Dad and I are out tossing crank baits at dawn. The boat sways in the dance of the current. I breathe in the aroma of our surroundings. It never gets old for me—water, leaves, rocks, earth, all tinged by a hint of decay outmuscled by an eternity of renewal.

Along the misty shore I see a shape I recognize.

There’s the heron.

Well, not the same one from the Chippewa Flowage. I mean, it’s thirty years later and we’re three states away. I doubt his territory is that big.

But this guy is every bit as magnificent. I’ve seen him several times over the course of my visits.

I stop cranking my lure to watch his lithe form stalk the shallows. He eyes me back. In a heartbeat he goes airborne, his wings beating powerful strokes through the sky.

Half an hour later, Dad and I putt-putt the boat to another favorite fishing spot three coves away. We settle back into the rhythm of cast-and-crank, and I see my bird pal again.

There’s the heron.

This time he ignores us until we drift within forty feet of him. Then he takes off, his throaty squawk scolding us on his fly-by.

Dad and I don’t spend much time in that cove either. We hit our next hot spot a couple of miles downstream, and low and behold, there’s the heron.

Boy, that bird gets around.

I watch him lift off from the roof of a dock, soar right over my head, and then land on the other side of the cove. No sooner do I turn forward again when another swish beats through the air.

I pinpoint a big bird heading my way.

The heron?

Wait, how can he fly by me again? He’s still on the shore behind me.

But it is a heron coming straight at me.

My mouth hangs open, and I blink a few times like that’ll jump-start my cerebellum.

There…are…two herons?

Heron number two settles onto a dock’s ramp a little way ahead of us.

A telltale squawk splits the air and another bird—apparently one that had been perched in the shadows of the ramp—peels into the sky.

Three herons? The last vestiges of my childhood paradigm burst like a big ol’ balloon on a hot barb of reality.

I mean, duh. It’s a very big lake. How could I think there would only be one heron?

Ooh, wait. Another epic revelation. I bet more than one heron visited our peninsula on the Chippewa Flowage too.

I’m going to blame this monolith of stupidity on words. There’s the heron. I accepted and absorbed the implied message without ever thinking it through. I’d like to blame Marlin Perkins, too, with all his talk about predator territories (do herons even have territories?), but the guy’s passed on now, so that doesn’t seem fair.

I count the birds again, all three, and feel like such an idiot that I can only double over laughing.

Dad looks my way, then scopes out the shore to see if I’ve bulls-eyed someone’s flowerpot or something with my lure. That’s the general cause for sudden outbursts—in whatever form—from the back of the boat.

When dad catches sight of my lure floating forgotten in the water, he turns back to me, his forehead creased because I’m pretty well cackling now. Inanely.

Hmm, admit to the great heron fallacy or have Dad think his daughter is part hyena?

I go for the whole, sordid, Marlin Perkins truth. Dad gets a good laugh too.

Funny how words have the power to influence my perception for thirty years. Not just words like the heron, but other words too. Like in junior high when that kid I didn’t even know looked me in the eye and said, “You’re ugly.”

Some part of me still believes that.

Somehow I let the words sink into my heart. Not on purpose. It just happened.

If only I could simply erase them.

Instead, it’s a painstaking process to dig them out, to replace them with words of truth.

God says I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. God says He beautifies me with salvation. And God says it’s His words—all of them—that I’m to let sink deep into my heart.

That’s actually pretty comforting, because He’s given me a whole Bible filled with truth to absorb. It ought to be easy.

But it’s not.

These days I do a lot of thinking about words. They scroll across every day of my life. If I don’t want some snot-nosed junior high kid defining the messages I take in, then it’s my job to filter those words.

No, it’s my responsibility.

The messages that sink deep into me—into my trials, my joys, my pain, my growth—shape who I am and who I become. (Click to tweet this) And ultimately they shape the message I project back to the world. Yes, in the words I write, but even more so in what I say and do. Because even if I weren’t a writer, I’d still have a message. I believe everyone does. It’s the story of our lives, lived out for everyone to see.

And stories are powerful things.

I want mine to be shaped by God’s words, not the world’s. I want my story to be His. I want to sift through every corner of my heart and know for certain that God has planted my message. Because then I know it’s steeped in grace, sown in truth, and nourished in love.

And it will bloom, ever and always, for His glory.

 

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I wrote this article for the January 2015 edition of Book Fun Magazine and reprinted it here for y’all.

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What Chocolate Taught Me

Chocolates

A good friend of mine recently mentioned that Godiva dark chocolate-covered cherries are her favorite. This sticks in my brain, because, you know, it’s about chocolate. I decide I’ll bring her a delicious gift the next time I fly out to see her. She’s a nice gal and likely to share, so this is a win/win for me.

I google Godiva stores and discover exactly ONE in my entire metro area. And it’s way across town.

Still, my friend is worth it.

On last-minute-errands day, I hurry to the mall complex, which is inexplicably crammed with cars. I park after three fruitless tries at following heavily laden shoppers to their vehicles. Why can’t people actually leave instead of jamming bags into their trunks and heading back to the stores? No one even waves apologetically at me.

When I finally get inside the mall, I must traverse the entire concourse to get to chocolate paradise. I don’t have time to drool over all the confections lining the displays (tragedy, I know), so I flag down the salesman. He’s dressed in a suit that’s more of a GQ attempt than a success, with a pale green tie that makes him look anemic.

“I need to buy some dark chocolate-covered cherries,” I tell him.

“Which kind?”

I frown. “There’s different kinds?”

“Regular cherries or dried?”

Ah. That’d be a difference. “I’ve never had the dried. Can I try a sample?”

“We don’t have any.”

“You don’t give samples?”

“I mean you can’t buy any. They don’t make ’em anymore.”

So we are discussing them…why?

He looks at me expectantly, like he hasn’t just wasted the last ten seconds of my life.

“Fine. I’ll take a box of the regular.” Hopefully that’s my friend’s favorite anyway.

“We’re out of those.”

“Out as in gone? You have none?”

“We sold out months ago.”

Did he not just lead me through a discussion about which kind I wanted? Right now what I want is to grab his pasty little tie and wring his pasty little neck.

He shrugs at my glare. “They go fast.”

I have just had possibly the most futile conversation of my life.

And they pay this guy for that.

I’m heading home, fuming, when God’s voice breaks in. “You’re mad because he asked you which kind of cherries you wanted as if it mattered, when all along he had no plans to act on your answer?”

“It was pointless. Why would he do that?”

“Have you never put me through a conversation that is just as futile?”

“What? How—”

“Is your mind already made up when you ask for my wisdom?”

“But…”

“Are your plans already settled when you ask for my guidance?”

“Well…”

“Have you already decided the outcome you want when you ask for my will to be done?” (Click to tweet this)

“Umm…”

“Is it not the same charade?”

Yes. The very same.

That’s when I understand the difference between true prayer and simply talking at God.

One is futile and insulting.

The other is reverent.

Necessary.

Priceless.

May I never mistake that again.

 

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What Do You Know?

Icicles against a green background

Having a dog with high exercise needs has had some life-altering repercussions. I used to be your basic, mostly-in-shape gal, but I’ve turned into an I-must-run-long-distances-everyday freak. I haven’t decided if this is a blessing or a curse. I mean, at first it was a matter of life and death—wear the dog out before he drives us all to cyanide. But now he’s old and doesn’t need a three-mile torture tour everyday.

Yet I still do it on my own.

Freak, I tell you.

Is it justifiable if I claim addiction to the aerobic conditioning and the feeling of accomplishment my run gives me? That I drag my ragged body out of bed every morning because I need my fix?

And when I finish my run, I come home and take Henry for his (which is pretty much a 100-meter dash and then much walking).

Winter time makes exercise more challenging. There are days or weeks when ice, snow, or bitter north winds cancel my run (and Henry’s sprint). Compound that with a few days of travel and an occasional injury that sidelines me because I’m probably too old for this. Lack of everyday training cuts my three-mile run down to one torturous mile.

Then, because of my…hmm, still don’t know if it’s a blessing or curse…because of my whatever, I MUST work everyday to build myself back up to three miles.

Slow. Painful. Process.

Which may or may not end in success before the next injury, blizzard, or traveling hiatus.
It’s always hardest right after I add another lap to my run. I try to incorporate a section of the neighborhood I haven’t been through lately so my brain has something to occupy itself with other than “IamgoingtodieIamgoingtodieIamgoingtodie.”

This time, my newest loop has a great downhill stretch that gives me a chance to relax before the long trek home. Unfortunately, the same hill has a few driveways and sidewalks with a type of stained concrete that always makes the pavement look wet.

In winter, wet means ice hazard.

Here’s the thing, I’m still paranoid about falling on the ice even when I know darn well it’s above freezing. Somehow my oxygen deprived brain believes ice can exist at forty degrees because it looks icy and it feels cold outside.

I either detour through the grass, which slows me down, or I do a stupid-looking shuffle step like I’m trying to run without actually putting my feet on the pavement.

Losing your stride, your rhythm, feels like throwing a rod in your well-tuned Ferrari. (Okay, I’m probably a Corolla, but you get the idea.) The worst part is that I miss the freedom of the downhill, the chance to breathe, to rejuvenate before the long stretch home.

All because I forget what I know and give in to how things look and feel.

That needs to stop.

Today.

As I huff and puff my way through the midpoint of this morning’s run, my breath makes clouds in the cold. The temperature has been hanging at forty all week. I round a bend and see my blessed downhill. Then…icy-looking concrete.

But I refuse to focus on feelings and appearances.

Today I will not trade what I know for what I fear. (Click to tweet this)

There. Is. No. Ice.

I run straight through the mirage, head high, traction solid. I breathe in the delight of easy, loping strides. The wind kisses my face, rumples my sweatshirt. My whole body sings with the joy of motion.

I could do this all day.

Well, if the hill went on forever.

It doesn’t though. But you know what? That long, flat backstretch home doesn’t seem so long now. Today I make it without a chainsaw hacking at my lungs, without a cramp ripping my side. Today that voice screaming at me to give up is a whisper I squelch without a thought.

Trusting what I know gave me a chance to rejuvenate, to focus my strength, to maintain my stride.

And that made all the difference.

I know something else now, too. Whatever faces me in life, whatever tasks God gives me to do? They might be one heck of a challenging run.

But that’s okay.

Whatever things may look like, or feel like, don’t much matter.

It’s what I know that counts.


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How My Dog Tried To Kill Himself (Again)

Henry

This month I’m guest blogging about—you guessed it: Henry—over at award-winning author Mesu Andrews’s blog. She writes great Biblical fiction, AND she loves dogs. Hop over to see how Henry tried to kill himself (again) and what that turned out to mean for the New Year. Here’s how the story starts…

I’m doing yard work when my hubby sticks his head out the window and tells me his big ball of bread dough rising on the counter has disappeared.

This is alarming on two levels. One, Alan was making the dough into our very most favoritist dinner rolls ever, and I REALLY wanted some. (I trim the hedges, Alan bakes. This is the kind of marriage we have. Don’t judge me.)

The second issue, far more troubling, is that when bulk food items mysteriously disappear in our house, it’s because our dog Henry made off with them.

Somehow I still feel the need to check the bread board myself, like Alan can mistake whether a cantaloupe-sized ball of dough is gone or not.

It’s gone.

Which means that for who knows how long now, Henry’s had dough for two-dozen dinner rolls rising in his nice warm belly. Can a stomach rupture?

(Click here to read the rest)

 

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