So Much Evil

Once again, I had a humorous, light-hearted blog post ready to go, but then another national tragedy occurred, and it doesn’t seem like the time for humor. Maybe next week we’ll be ready to laugh again. For now, my heart is heavy for the people affected by the Las Vegas shooting and our nation as a whole. As I write this, there is no clear reason for the attack, no statement being made, no cause to call attention to, no particular group of people targeted. It was just evil unleashed on innocent people who happened to be where he was.

I’ve seen Facebook posts ranging from heartbroken to furious to absurd. It seems those reactions represent the feelings of many Americans regarding current events: politics, natural disasters, sports, climate change, and even Hugh Heffner. I have a feeling that most Americans are more balanced and less vocal than the ones making all the noise. Maybe I just hate to think that our nation is really as divided as it appears in the media.

I was so encouraged in the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, seeing Americans of all races, religions, and political persuasions helping and bringing relief to the those affected. But then football season started, and here we go again. Is it right to stand, kneel, sit, or remain in the locker room for the national anthem?

We are a funny bunch of people who can go so quickly from loving each other, putting aside our differences to help one another, to raging against one another over some pretty trivial issues. That may raise the ire of some of you – disrespecting the flag is not trivial. Compared to loving or hating your fellow Americans, it is. One of the most frustrating things about this country is our right to free speech. I’ll just leave that here for you to interpret however you want.

I have strong opinions on all of the things I mentioned as current events. But I’m not going to share them here. Of course, I think my opinions are right. Why would I have them if they weren’t? But getting my opinions out among the throng of voices will only start or fuel arguments. I’m not interested in arguing. Sure, I think I could win the arguments, but that’s not what I am called to do.

As a Christian, I am called to love you. That right, you. Because if you’re a brother or sister in Christ, I am to love you. If you are a neighbor, I am to love you. If you are a family member, I am to love you. If you are my enemy, I am to love you. If you stand, kneel, sit, or are a no show, I am to love you.

Loving you means not arguing but listening to you, even if you won’t listen to me. It means putting your needs before mine. It means praying for you – not that you would change your mind, but that God would bless you (which may include changing, but that’s up to Him).

I wish I could say that things will get better. But, unfortunately, I think evil will not just continue but will grow. The worst is yet to come. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:12-13)

But as for me, I commit to go on loving others because God’s Word tells me that “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:18) And I will continue to pray for peace in our nation, and specifically today, for those so horribly affected by evil.

 

Changes!

What a week! In just one week, we doubled our grandchildren. Last week we had two granddaughters. This week we have three granddaughters and a grandson. And we felt no pain at all. They are both precious and perfect and turned their families of three into families of four. The two big sisters are taking their roles very seriously and doing a great job! And the changes didn’t stop there. (Photo credit for girls in pink: Bella Baby)

We bought a new car. Not a new, new car. A three-year-old, new car, which is the newest car we’ve owned since 1985. Do you remember the 80’s, when interest rates were high on both loans and bank accounts? That was the year we bought our only brand, new car. We had the cash to pay for it, but the interest rate on a new-car loan was 6%, and the interest rate on a 2-year CD at our bank was 9%. So, we took the loan and put the cash in the bank, making a profit of 3% over the two years. Those were the days.

We also had a dog swap this week. Our 11-year-old, easy-going boy, Akers, went on vacation with our son and his wife, and we got their 9-month-old ball of energy. Sensing who got the better end of that deal, Akers went all puppy on them and devoured two sticks of butter, two bags of donuts, and a box of instant mashed potatoes. He’s good, but food left unattended is fair game. It also made a repeat appearance during the night. A dog vomiting is the most effective alarm clock ever! You are up, out of bed, and wide awake in milliseconds.

Yui

The seasons changed this week, too, although it doesn’t feel like it with Autumn starting with temps in the 80’s and 90’s! But I see trees turning yellow, orange, and red, mums blooming, and leaves crunching under my feet. Summer went by in a flash, and I fear Autumn will be gone before I even get to break out my favorite jeans and sweatshirts. My favorite season of all is off to a great start – football season! Penn State is 4-0 and the Philadelphia Eagles are 2-1. Both of them made this week’s wins a little too exciting for a grandmother of four. My heart can’t take it.

So, where did I see God this week? All over the place! Obviously, the birth of babies has God written all over it. New life, gifts from God, the design of a woman’s body to carry, deliver, and nurture a newborn is truly awesome. The instant love that exists between a parent (or grandparent) and a newborn has to be from God. Humans are much too selfish to love like that on their own.

I’m not sure that God is all that interested in the car we bought, although the deal that we got and the timing and having the money to pay for it all seem to have God’s fingerprints. I’m sure he doesn’t care about my football teams (as individuals, yes, but who wins and who loses, I don’t think so), but I’m happy they won.

Believe it or not, what struck me the most this week was the time I spent with Yui, my son’s dog. She’s a rescue. Her background and breeding are unknown. One ear goes up and the other down. Her right lip gets stuck on her bottom teeth, giving her a crooked smile. The long bone of her front legs is too long. She’s sweet but a rather dim bulb, and she never comes when called. She reminds me a lot of me, at least the me before God rescued me and gave me new life. I didn’t have anything to offer him, but he loved me anyway. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 ESV)

Two new grandkids to love, new stuff to care for, a new season to enjoy, and a goofy rescue puppy reminded me once again of the love of God. Yes, it’s been quite a week!

Who’s My Neighbor? No Really, We Haven’t Met

It’s a question most famously asked of Jesus, who launched into the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. A person with no understanding of or exposure to Scripture still knows what it means to be a good Samaritan. But that’s not what I was asking.

We got new neighbors, at least we thought we did. We were sure the old neighbors moved out. We weren’t sure that the new neighbors moved in. Doug had met the new neighbor the day she did the walkthrough prior to settlement. There was an instant connection because of her reason for buying the house–a place that would work for both her and her elderly mom. It was the same reason we bought ours. Cookie-cutter houses with cookie-cutter purposes.

So, I baked some cookies to welcome them to the neighborhood, but I really thought they hadn’t moved in yet. So, the cookies sat on the counter, mysteriously dwindling as a few days went by. Finally, Doug saw her again. They had moved in. He told me Sherry was walking the dog when he saw her. A dog? There’s a dog? I haven’t seen a dog.

I went next door with my petite plate of cookies (after all, there’s just two of them, they don’t need a lot). No answer, but the dog barked. It’s a Lab; I like this family already. I left the cookies on the porch rocker and checked on them a little later on – gone. Huh. I had included a note with the cookies, welcoming them and giving them our phone numbers in case they needed anything.

A few hours later, I saw a voicemail message. It was Sherry, thanking me for the cookies and the phone numbers. She hoped to meet me soon. Does my neighbor really exist? She is very mysterious. Then it happened. We were out in our yard with the dogs, and Sherry and her dog walked by. She stopped and introduced herself. The three Labs met. We chatted for a while, and she continued her walk. Nice lady, sweet dog.

I realized that when Doug had described her to me, he never mentioned that she is black. It probably never occurred to him. That sort of thing doesn’t. He’s more likely to describe someone by their occupation or the car they drive–the doctor behind us, the Penn State guy across the alley, the guy with the blue Camaro a few doors down, but never their color. Unless their color isn’t good, like “he looks a little grey to me.”

I would describe them as the guy with the Golden Retriever, the couple with the Greyhounds, the family with the Chihuahuas. And we both describe one neighbor as “the spy” cause we’re pretty sure he is. Very suspicious. They are varying shades of white, tan, and black, but that doesn’t shed any light on who they are (not like the car they drive or the dog they own).

The important thing about our neighbors is that we love them. That may mean baking them cookies, helping them with a project, loaning them stuff, or just talking with them and sharing our lives with them, being a neighbor. We show them love regardless of their skin color, their occupation, or even if they own Chihuahuas, although it’s hard not to look down the on them just a little for the Chihuahuas.

At the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus says, “Which do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “the one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You, go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36,37 ESV) As the Apostle Paul put it, as Christians, “there is not Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:11 ESV) In today’s language, race, color, or culture makes no difference. We are one in Christ, brothers and sisters.

One of the things I love about our new neighborhood is what I thought I would hate about it – there are so many people, neighbors just steps away. There is also a lot of diversity, an unexpected bonus. As we meet more and more neighbors, we get a glimpse into other cultures and have the opportunity to practice the culture of Christianity–that of loving our neighbors.

Remembering

I had another blog post ready to go for today. But I couldn’t help remembering 9-11, and it didn’t seem right to post about something else on this day.

Sixteen years have passed, but I still remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the first reports of terror attacks. I remember feeling fear – the plane in PA was just starting to be talked about. My next memory was overwhelming sorrow. I thought about how many people would be affected by the attacks. So many people. The sadness was heavy.

I’ll never forget the plane impacting with the second tower, the faces of civilians and first responders as they came to grips with what was happening, and then the collapse of the towers. It was truly unbelievable.

As the day wore on, the saddest sights to me were the pictures of ER personnel waiting outside hospitals to care for the expected thousands of victims. But they never came. ERs remained quiet. Blood donations went into blood banks for future needs. There were few victims that made it to a hospital. Most victims were swallowed up in the towers, becoming part of the dust. It was heartbreaking.

Being born after the JFK assassination, I didn’t have that frame of reference when everyone talked about knowing where they were when they heard the news. Now I did. 9-11 was my generation’s JFK. I’m sure it will remain with me all of my life. I work with teens who were born after 9-11-01. Like the generation before me, It seems so strange that they didn’t experience it. Everything that it changed is normal to them–taking your shoes off at the airport, leaving liquids behind, having a Department of Homeland Security, and the war on terror.

I had to go to work that afternoon. That’s when I remember the first feelings of American pride. As I drove just over an hour, through small towns, I noticed that almost every house had an American flag hanging outside. They weren’t there the day before. It was the beginning of American’s coming together in the face of tragedy. I choked up at the symbol of all Americans connecting to one another and offering support.

I can’t help but think of the difference in how the picture of the American flag being raised by first responders over the rubble of the world trade center united a nation, but how divisive it is now just being unfurled at a football game. Our memories are not long enough.

This week we have faced two major hurricanes with widespread devastation. And just like the terror attacks, Americans are showing their love for one another in caring for each other’s needs. It is a shame that sometimes it takes a catastrophe for people to lay aside their political, racial, economic, and cultural differences to help a fellow American in need.

I wish we would remember they way we felt on 9-11 every day and not just for a short time on the anniversary. What a difference that would make in how we treat one another. “make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:2-4 NASB)

A Labor Day Tradition

Of all the Labor Day traditions, my favorite is attending the Blue Hill Fair in Blue Hill, Maine. A tradition since 1891, it is where E.B. White saw the pigs from Zuckerman’s farm and was inspired to write Charlotte’s Web. Zuckerman’s still bring their famous pigs to the fair.

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It is the quintessential country fair where 4-H kids are judged on projects ranging from carrots to cows. There’s a midway full of delicious treats, games and carnival rides, concerts, harness racing, women’s skillet toss, and anything you can do with wild blueberries. We always plan our time there around two events, the sheepdog trials and the horse pulling.

I am fascinated watching the sheepdogs herd 4-5 sheep through several gates and pens with the only instruction from the shepherd being various whistles. The crowd is completely quiet while they work, with only the occasional gasp or moan when a sheep breaks away and spoils the dog’s work.

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But my absolute favorite thing to watch is the horse-pulling competition. Giant draft horses, mostly Blegians, compete in pulling skids piled with granite slabs, 10’s of thousands of pounds. They compete in two- and three-horse teams. In the timed competition, the horses pull the same amount of weight back and forth through the show ring. The team who pulls the greatest distance wins. In the second competition, more weight is added each time the team successfully pulls the skid 15 feet. The team who pulls the most weight, wins. Most of these horses are still used for work. They may clear granite boulders from farmer’s fields or pull huge logs out of the dense Maine woods where mechanical equipment can’t go.

The teams come into the ring prancing and snorting, anticipating what they are about to do. The driver backs the team into place, and as soon as they are hooked to the skid, the horses take off, digging into the loose dirt, every muscle pulsing. Their power and beauty is breathtaking. The driver stops the team every so often, allowing them to catch their breath and give their muscles a rest. As soon as the driver tells them to go, they are off again. These gentle giants will pull until their driver tells them to stop or until the weight is just too much.

 

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Finally, the driver unhooks the team, and they prance out of the ring, relieved of the burden they have been carrying. To cool down, the horses pull their driver’s around on skids outfitted with old car bench seats. They clearly enjoy this. What a relief to pull just a few hundred pounds! I am always reminded of Jesus words, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

We will miss the fair this year as we anxiously await the arrival of our next two grandchildren. But, hopefully, in the years to come, we will be able to share this special tradition with them.

Little League

For the past two weeks, 12-year-olds from around the world gathered in Williamsport, PA, for the Little League World Series. I love to watch kids play baseball. Most of the time, I am amazed at their athleticism. Occasionally, they still play like average kids, but then again, so do major leaguers.

My favorite Little Leaguers are the really little ones, the ones who look like the Great Gazoo from the Flintstones when they don their helmets—all head, tiny body. It’s their sheer joy in playing the game that gets me. I love that they run the bases in the wrong direction, that they slide too soon and crawl the rest of the way to the bag, that they are more interested in blowing bubbles with their mouths full of Big League Chew than catching a ball.

One of the things I love about watching the Little League World Series is the camaraderie among the players and teams. It’s great that they mic the coaches. We get to eavesdrop on their conversations with the players, hearing them encourage pitchers in tight spots, telling them to keep calm and do their best. My favorite was a coach that told his team who was about to lose the game, “No matter what happens, I love you guys, and I’m proud of you.”

Watching kids playing baseball and having fun was a welcome retreat from the recent news stories. Here were young boys with different backgrounds, from around the country and around the world, swapping pins, collecting autographs, and coming together for the love of a game. They encouraged each other, cheered for each other, challenged each other, and when it was all over, congratulated the winners and consoled the losers, even if they didn’t speak the same language.

Kids often teach us the greatest lessons. These kids weren’t afraid of each other and their differences. Instead, they took time to get to know one another and found common ground in a game they all love, a game known for sportsmanship. While they played by the same rules and wore similar uniforms, they still celebrated their differences.

I watched a player from South Korea signing an American player’s t-shirt. Both boys sported ear-to-ear grins as the South Korean explained the symbols. The Japanese team bowed to the umpires and fans before and after the game. Every winning team celebrated with raised arms and hugs and every losing team had their criers.
It’s the best of baseball. America’s pastime. In August 2017, it was a welcome pastime from the adults who can’t get along.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-4)

Puppies!

There are so many directions I could go for my first real blog post. Since I promised puppies, and who doesn’t love puppies, I’ll start there.

Saturday was Family Day at The Seeing Eye, Inc. It was the 35th annual celebration of puppy raisers (1500 this year) who are invited to visit the home base of The Seeing Eye in Morristown, NJ, for all sorts of fun and festivities. There are dog demos, graduate talks, seminars, face painting, hot dogs, ice cream, and meeting and greeting other puppy raisers and Seeing Eye staff. The day is provided to thank the volunteer puppy raisers for their part in the mission of The Seeing Eye–to enhance the independence of blind people through the use of Seeing Eye dogs.

I am often asked how I got involved in puppy raising. The answer is simple; I wanted to teach my children character. In the 1990’s I was homeschooling my children. At every homeschool fair I went to, I heard the same message–teach character first, then academics. But the question I always had was the same, too. How do we teach character. Sure, we can model it for them and read stories about people of character. But how can we teach them character in a way they can grasp, a tangible, hands-on way.

Then we saw a Seeing Eye puppy demonstration. Kids were raising puppies, showering them with love, teaching them commands, obedience, and manners, taking them everywhere they went for exposure, and finally, giving them back so they could become the eyes for a blind person. A lot of love and work went into this project, all for someone else, a complete stranger. This is what I was looking for. And you get to have an adorable puppy for a year, too!

“The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord has made them both.” (Proverbs 20:12) This is the verse from which The Seeing Eye derives its name. We have been raising puppies for 20 years now, currently with #22. It has been a blessing in so many ways. It did teach my boys a lot of character traits like responsibility, consistency, patience, as well as public speaking, leadership skills, and that a puppy in the mall works as a chick magnet.

You could practically trip over the spiritual parallels, but you won’t because, you know, we’re talking about guide dogs. In a beautiful picture of how God leads his children, Seeing Eye dogs guide their people safely where they need to go. Often the blind people are oblivious to the many dangers the dog keeps them from. Sometimes the dog stops and shows the person the problem and then leads them through it. Sound familiar? One thing you might not know is that the dog does all this because they love the person they have charge of. It’s not for a paycheck, it’s not even for a milkbone, they do it because they love that person and want their love and praise in return.

The most important thing the blind students are taught is “trust your dog.” If the dog stops or changes direction, there is a reason. The blind person needs to trust the dog is stopping or changing course for their good and follow the dog’s lead. As Christians it can be scary to trust God’s leading when we can’t see where he is taking us. But as we learn to trust him, we find that he makes our steps secure (Psalm 40:2).

Puppy raising taught all of us lessons we never even considered when that first little ball of fur arrived at our door 20 years ago. And I certainly never expected a career to come of it! I am so thankful for all we’ve learned and all the puppy love we got to experience. Below are photos of #22, and scenes from Family Day.

For more information about The Seeing Eye, Inc. and the puppy raising program, visit their website at http://www.seeingeye.org.

Yardley baby