Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Another reason not to write

Ready to show

We continue to clear surfaces, sort drawers, pitch expired canned goods like crazy people. We are almost ready for the 360 Video Tour. By Saturday Toad Hall will be listed. I’ve heard that when people look at a house for sale, they open drawers and cabinet doors. Would that be the case? I mean do you have to be interested  in buying before you open the dressers drawers? Or are we just a snoopy species and look anyway? I shuddered when I looked under the bathroom sink with snoopy eyes wondering what whoever might think when they saw ... well, when they saw what they saw? Like a gallon of periodontal mouth rinse, a dried up box of soft wet wipes, and much else. This stuff is going straight to the trash, no thinking about who might be able to use this.
The big triumph today is that my office is ready to show and it looks magnificent. Never better. Better than Denis’. His desk tops are always organized and clear. I admire this, but one just shouldn’t do that much clean living. It makes me slightly bitter. But right now? Clean. Clean. Clean. I WIN! You’d think anyone would be able to write a book and more here, it’s that inviting. For the time being But not one word will get out because as soon as I start, books and papers gather from nowhere and start breeding like rabbits and this in the digital age! When everything could be done online? But now, at least I’ll have the memory of this tidy place where I’ve brooded and wasted so many years staring out the window. Eventually when I look back at these pics, I may try to rewrite history to say it looked like this all the time. But now that you know, you can hold me accountable. I’m asking you.


(Yeah.  And speaking of the Happy Bunny "let's focus on me" could the video I took be any more out of  focus?)

Anita just came up to show a spring-time wreath she made for the front porch. It is so so so whimsical and sweet with that little crocheted hen sitting one her nest surrounded by pussy willows and baby’s breathe I could eat it! If I came to our front door, I’d want to buy this house just because of that. Wouldn’t you?
Spring is here. Maybe.

Saturday is it, then. The house goes up for sale. We are in the chute and I don’t know where or when we will come out.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Against Anxiety - "put it into practice"

Snow just a few days ago and now inches of rain on top
“The Lord is near.” I’ve known that phrase since I was a child. I think adults said it to make kids afraid to scratch and pick the dead skin off their heels or other socially unacceptable behavior because this very important and glorious person who has power to see you through walls is watching so you better behave. No, I think Jesus means to calm us, to love us by being near.
Do you ever waken from dreams that are not specific. They aren’t frightening, but they leave you with impressionistic confusion and foggy memories of busyness that makes you anxious?  I want to know, really know, the meaning of “Rejoice … the Lord is near.
I came away from home a few days to visit long-time friends who make people feel loved and at-home. I am experiencing the grace they offer. You can get up get a cup of coffee that is already perfectly made and go back to bed, even. This seems to be a good place to be before we dive into the unknowns of the coming days. But thoughts keep knocking at my door: will Toad Hall sell right away or will we endure weeks, perhaps months, of see-sawing on the market? Will we forever be grabbing wet towels and stuffing them in baskets? Wiping the crumbs? Recycling newspapers, tidying pillows, etc, etc? Right now it is a little exciting. I hope the next stranger who enters our door will become the owner and will love this place as we have. However, it’s possible this will all become so tiresome I’ll want to kill any agent who dares show the house and I will despair of EVER selling. I don’t know. And what if it sells immediately and we do not have a place to go?! What then?
Here, in such a beautiful place where the desert blooms and the light reaches the mountain peaks with friends I love, I should not be thinking about anything except where is my wine glass, but even my subconscious conspires to dream empty, busy, confusing dreams.

Thankful for outrageous Bougainvillea
“Do NOT be anxious about anything.” The Pauline prescription for anxiety follows this up with “but in everything let your prayers (more formal words …Our Father) and requests (a little like begging) AND thanksgiving be known to God.” These three things are part of the formula. Pray. Ask. Be grateful, you who could be living in a refugee tent somewhere.
The news that it is raining back home doesn’t help. All day rain has poured down on top of four feet of snow. A foot of ice.

Desert peaks lit by setting sun
Trying to shovel it away or dig a trench is quixotic. Some of it is sure to leak into our basement because it has nowhere else to go other than down through the walls and out onto the carpet. The past month I have already spent time worrying about this possibility and in case it should happen I may have mentioned it to Denis and Anita possibly ten or twenty times. Please help me watch for it, I say. (And they flinch.) And now? Rochester is a hellish mess. Water pooling every where on top of mountains of snow. So I have to ask. Is our basement leaking? I could tell Denis didn’t want answer that question. He wants me to not worry and to have a good time - to rest before we plunge farther into no-return. But I must ask. Is water leaking into the basement?
A long pause. (Not good.) Yes. It is. But we have the carpet rolled back, the heat is on and the fans are going. It’ll be okay.
I am silent. There is nothing you can do about such things after all, is there? So many things in life like that.
Stop your infernal worry. Before that statement about not being anxious comes that well-placed reminder “…the Lord is near.”  Yes, he is. It’s like the SWAT team, your Grandma, your bridegroom and the sheriff who is your brother - all rolled into one is watching out for you. Petition. Prayer. Thanksgiving.  Do it, Margie. Pester God. Say your formal prayers. Add a list of things your are thankful for.

There is more to this piece of advice that is worth thinking about. But I’ll skip to the end where Paul cryptically says: “…put it into practice. And the peace of God will be with you."
I hope you don’t find this territory completely foreign. We like to think we are not alone in our neurosis. I pray you find comfort for whatever you are facing this week. Peace.

Let it rain and snow. Thankful to be here awhile.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Forgive yourself

I’ve had a little vacation from my computer when I sent my old one off to Ed in Florida. Lucky me, he transferred all her data to a new one - as long as Ed is around (thank God he is doing pretty well and about to be another “first” in getting a new-fangled treatment for stage IV metastasized prostate cancer) he still keeps our machines rotated and up-to-date. It felt good to have it gone, gone, gone. Like I was free from one of those enslaving robot pets that quack for mama duck all night. I looked at that empty spot on the desk and was happy not to hear the little ploops announcing the arrival of messages. It reminds me that there were days back when, when I still knew how to use paper and pen.
Now she's back. I call her Jane. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s Calamity Jane I’m thinking of - blazing fast and easy on the eye. I quite like her, but I’ve still been avoiding her, distracted as I am about selling, moving and buying the next place in life. It’s the best excuse I’ve had for not writing in about a hundred years. Don’t bother me, I’m sorting moldy tub toys that haven’t been used since my 36-year-old daughter was a baby. Go away, Denis and I are in intense and delicate conferences about finances and futures.
When pressure mounts to brain stroke intensity, I feel like beating myself up all the way from here to Glen Allen, Alaska. Then I realized something important about forgiveness. You need to forgive yourself, Einstein. Stop your ridiculous self-abuse.
I came across this by Ann Patchett and I’m pretty sure it applies to a lot more than writing:
     Forgiveness. The ability to forgive oneself. Stop here for a few breaths and think about this because it is the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life. Every time I have set out to translate the book (or story, or hopelessly long essay) that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper, ... I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time. Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. I believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people form being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.  - Ann Patchett, “This-Is-Story-Happy-Marriage"
For me this translates to: I grieve most about lack of diligence. I can’t or don't write as much as I would like, but I can and will write what I can when I can. Does this make sense?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Do Nothing

"Do nothing." That’s what my friend, spiritual director and Mac support man said. "I’m on it, Margie. It’s all taken care of. Do nothing.” (for more about Ed go to his blog: www.wedonotloseheart)
I have a response pattern firmly woven into my amygdala. It loves to presuppose that Margie should never make a mistake. However small it might be, you are not allowed to get it wrong. If the thing is big, involving another’s well-being, lots of money, losing your keys, or moving your house and job from here to there, well then, there will be hell to pay if you get it wrong or can’t fix it. Matters of less consequence are not exempt from punishment.
Some would say when mistakes are made they are accidental. Circumstantial. Just life. Maybe, but lately I’ve come to believe God is messing with that organ in my brain; perhaps it should be called my heart. Or my spirit. Whatever, where ever it is, He is in that place where the real me dwells beneath miles of protective layers and he allows me to make mistakes. Sometimes he’s there with a wrecking ball trying to get my attention, other times with an instrument so delicate I barely feel the exposure of this ill conceived notion that whatever Margie does, must be done perfectly.
What happened yesterday will probably seem inconsequential to you. Not to me.
I was excited that it’s time to replace my aging computer with the new MacBook Pro Retina Display. Ed sent me the link and told me to go ahead and order the computer and a warranty and have it shipped to him for set-up.
1. I ordered the wrong computer.
2. I forgot to purchase the extended warranty.
3. I was dropped several times before I finally got the warranty purchased. When I purchased it, it was, of course, for the wrong computer.
4. When the receipt was emailed I saw I had even accidentally ordered an extended warranty for a computer I knew I wasn't getting.
5. By the time Ed figured it out, the wrong computer had already been shipped with the added cost of a warranty for a computer they hadn’t shipped and I wasn’t getting anyway. Do you understand this? Good.
It is the most mystifying thing to be a person who can get so many things wrong in one go. It is also humiliating. Shameful. It was time to beat myself up.
Suddenly I decided I’d had enough of that. This is who I am. A person who makes mistakes. Even sinful mistakes. Not one of my weaknesses is a surprise to God. (Not to Ed or to you either.) Being a person who tries to control every thing and every one and fails at the simplest thing and yet is still loved by Jesus? That’s not bad.
In a book I’m reading slowly these days - Barbara Duguid writes in Extravagant Grace: "Paul’s description of himself as chief of sinners (see I Tim. 1:15-16) is not some charming attempt at humility and self-abasement; it is the absolute, glorious truth. We are all frail and fragile children who sin a great deal in our disobedience, but who also manage to sin a great deal in our best obedience as well. Discovering this truth and growing to love it can be one of the most powerful and joyful motivations for change that God ever invented, but it seems that few Christians today ever get there. They have such a hard time giving up their great expectations for themselves and others, and they are left spinning aimlessly in cycles of fear and shame as they try desperately to impose those expectations on the recalcitrant world around them."
May God continue to hammer at my heart. I want change. I want/need joy.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

We do not lose heart

Last year at this time when our board was together for the annual meeting, we skyped with Ed Hague who lives in Tallahassee, FL. He has been on our ministry’s (RansomFellowship) Board of Directors for … I can’t remember how many years. Early 2,000s? We were saying good-bye to him, amid tears and laughter, as he was dying from stage IV prostate cancer. It had invaded his bones with a vengeance and he was too sick to join us. He had tendered his resignation. We felt heartbroken.

The amazing, the unpredicted, the strange thing is that after treatment with a powerful new drug he regained enough energy and health to join us this year (2014) in Chicago. He was only the 11th person world-wide to receive this treatment and because of his spectacular recovery he has become their poster-boy. No one knows how much longer he'll live, but we'll rejoice for whatever time he has left. So we thank God every day that he is still here and as impudent as ever. He continued to pastor us, even through his failing health, but with a new mantra, "I'm dying and can say whatever I want to you." He will attend this year as an honorary member and the request that all his power be reinstated minus the responsibilities. (We'll see about THAT, old man.) Today, he and his wife, Betsy will join us in Chicago for our board meeting!

I’d like to recommend his blog where he recounts his remarkable medical journey, the terrifying disappointments, the unexpected mercy of facing death and the amazing provisions of God for his family and business. I suggest you begin at the beginning and read through the whole thing. You won’t be sorry.
We do not lose heart: .

Ed Hague, 2007,  Rosemary Beach, Florida. That is not a coke.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Honeysuckle digs a rug

The arrival of very cold weather has us letting Honeysuckle into the house more often. Her wool has grown long and thick, so we don't worry much even when it is 20 below. She loves the cold far more than the hot. It makes her very lively and getting inside to cause a bit of mischief is a daily goal. When she hears the knob on the kitchen door, she hops down out of her hutch and tears across the porch planning to enter by force if necessary.
She has a taste for electric cords - and especially enjoys severing computer power cords. She also likes to scratch and push her way past the barriers that keep her from going behind the couch. She loves treats and comes like a white tornado when she hears the refrigerator opening - which definitely means something delicious like napa cabbage, carrot or apple.
After hopping around to inspect all her nooks, she often settles down for a nap, usually at Anita's feet or snuggled under her arm - as you see here.
Bunny Naps
A Christmas nap.

Sometimes we talk about pets, how they capture our hearts. How they make us laugh. How exasperating they can be, and how when they are sick or injured we must weigh… them, their worth. How much is too much to spend in making their lives better? What can we afford? Animals are grace to many of us. In creation, in the hoppiness of a bunny, the way she lifts her tufted ears, merely being her creaturely self, we see the goodness of the creator represented and are thankful for these small blessings.

I hope there are things in your life that bring you pleasure and the recognition of God's love for all his creatures, including you and me.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

"In the bleak midwinter" the car breaks down

"In the bleak midwinter long, long ago" …  Christina Rosetti's poem sang through my head for hours as we drove through the North Dakota prairies this past weekend. The weather was gasping cold for our grandson's hockey tournament in Crookston. We've been looking forward to it for weeks now. Icy roads. Drifts. Currents flowed across the highway, twining, twisting streams of fine snow. Denis and I laughed as we passed miles and miles of buried fence lines. We were remembering that scene from the movie Fargo where the character played by Steve Buscemi buries a suitcase with the money in a snowbank and returned to his partner with only $80,000.00. The character stops his car along the highway, looks both directions, flounders through the snow, and buries the suitcase in a spot that is so like a billion other spots, we know he will never, ever find it again.
North Dakota power plant

The land makes you wonder about the early pioneers who made it to the Red River Valley in the fall, and before winter only had time to build a three-sided sod house in the lee of a hill - if they were so lucky to find a hill. Even in our warm car, it felt a little dangerous. When we left Grand Forks for home on Sunday morning, it was 26 below not counting wind chill.
My favorite app is the Starbucks Locator that can lead me to the closest store anywhere in the U.S. - the coffee I count on when traveling. Allowing the pulsing blue circle to lead us to the green light on the map, just over the hill and off the next exit always gives me a small jolt of pleasure. You may not know that my blog name "toadsdrinkcoffee" is not random. We live in Toad Hall, so I suppose you could call us Toadies and good coffee is a burden I gladly bear.
No buried treasure here

On that cold morning we found a Starbucks in Grand Forks before we headed south. Along the way I had fleeting thoughts of what it would be like to break down along the road. About 10 miles north of Fargo, we did. Suddenly the rpms dropped to zero and we coasted to a stop. Our engine was still running, but the accelerator wouldn't engage. These days with every insurance company carrying road-side assistance, we knew we'd be okay, but it made Denis very tense, while me, I'm just sitting there sipping my latte, dough-dee-dough. With the engine still alive, we stayed warm. After several calls someone in a far-away, warm climate called a towing service in Fargo, located our position via our iPhone and GPS, and after an hour's wait the tow truck arrived. As he towed us into a Firestone shop, he told us he had pulled 72 drivers out of the ditch that weekend. (There had been a strange sleet that fell making roads even more treacherous.) All of them idiots, he said. He didn't count ones like us who broke down. As we waited for the shop to open, Denis started the engine again and automatically touched the accelerator which suddenly woke up. We quickly decided to take the chance and head to Rochester. On the five hour drive home the engine cut out three more times. It was stressful for Denis, especially when it happened while we were in the passing lane surrounded by semis and me yelling, "Turn on the hazards! Turn on the hazards!" Shutting the engine off and restarting seemed to reboot the system. It's fixed now.
Winter has its bleak side, of course. But to be home safe? To be warm? More than sufficient.
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, 
 earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; 
 snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, 
 in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain; 
 heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign. 
 In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed 
 the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ. 

Angels and archangels may have gathered there, 
 cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; 
 but his mother only, in her maiden bliss, 
 worshiped the beloved with a kiss. 

What can I give him, poor as I am? 
 If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; 
 if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; 
 yet what I can I give him:  give my heart. - Christina Rosetti