An Imperfect Vessel

Maybe a broken pot serves an important purpose.

Excuse me, where is the gardener at a time like this? Isn’t it time to repot these plants? Haven’t they outgrown their broken container?

I snapped this photo on one of my recent walks in Leu Gardens. The scene is an affront to my desire for perfection. At first glance, one might consider the pot and its contents, ugly. Yet, the succulents continue to thrive.

I wondered how a cactus could survive in a subtropical climate like ours. After all, Leu Gardens is located in Orlando, Florida. This year we received 52 inches of rain. Doesn’t a cactus need to live in a desert?

Water aside, Florida has much in common with the deserts of the southwest. Both have sandy soil and receive lots of sunlight. Our average number of days with sunshine is 236. Roughly 2/3 of our year is sunny. Sounds like a great place for a cactus, except for the frequent rainstorms.

Let’s get back to the broken clay pot. Although one side seems to be missing, maybe the broken pot serves an important purpose. Since cactus plants will not grow well in standing water, did the gardener intend to use this imperfect vessel? If the water has a way to drain, a mini-desert environment has been created. This imperfect vessel could be just what these plants need.

Maybe this was part of some greater plan. The gardener actually planned to use a broken pot. Or maybe he broke it on purpose.

The more I think about it I realize I could apply this visual to our world. We are the like the cactus, trying to thrive in a broken vessel. The clay pot with one side missing represents loss. So far the year 2020 has taken lives, marriages, and income from many people. Often we wonder, where is the gardener? Has he forgotten about us? Why doesn’t he redeem all we have lost?

We hope science can save us. We expect our government officials to rescue us from the losses of this year. Still, we wait. But there is one greater than science or government. One who will wipe every tear from our eyes. The gardener will return and great will be our joy. He will make all things new!

In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God; we trusted in him and he saved us. This is the Lord we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in our salvation.” Isaiah 25:9

Dear reader, I am hoping the days ahead bring joy and prosperity to your house. Never give up on the gardener. He knows what he his doing. Trust him.

Music Makes My World Go Round

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ― Plato

How important is music to you? My passion for listening to music began with the purchase of my first record. In 1964 I scraped money together from my small weekly allowance to buy the Beatles 45, “Please, Please, Me.” I listened to it over and over and practically wore it out.

When I was old enough to babysit for the neighbors, I saved my fifty cents an hour salary to afford albums. One of my early purchases was “Disraeli Gears” by Cream. What an amazing album cover! Cream blended rock, blues, and jazz into a unique sound. The group consisted of Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and Eric Clapton. This powerful trio created a blueprint for every super group to follow including Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

The sixties brought forth a renaissance in music. Every month a new group surfaced. Each group seemed to build upon the creativity of others. In my opinion, this golden age of music has not been replicated since.

Like most teenagers I spent hours in my bedroom listening to music. It seemed like I was doing nothing but there was a lot of dreaming going on in there. For you see, music gives flight to the imagination.

In my post, True Confessions of a Memory Hoarder, I shared how difficult it is for me to give up my record collection. Guess what? My problem is solved. I’ve discovered Spotify! Granted, I might be late to the party, but I’m thrilled that the party waited for me.

Herb and I learned about Spotify from our adult children. Think about it. Every song ever recorded can be downloaded to your phone, and for a small monthly fee, you can listen anytime you want. Spotify enables you to create your own playlists of your favorite songs. You can make a high energy playlist for exercising, or a slower mix for times of relaxation.

When it comes to music, we all have our likes and dislikes. Spotify has organized the hits from each decade. Scrolling through the sixties list helped me remember songs I liked on the radio but never purchased. How could I ever forget “Spooky” by the Classics IV?

Herb and I enjoy playing our own version of “Name that Tune.” One of us will play the beginning of a song and the other person must identify the title and artist. (Fortunately, we both grew up listening to the same music.) Often we talk about what was happening in our lives at the time. “Radar Love” was popular the year we met at Lum’s Restaurant in Columbus, Ohio.” However, we did not consider it “our song.” That honor was reserved for Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.”

I always wanted to be a song writer. I think my love for poetry really began by listening to music. Remember the lyrics to “Scarborough Fair” by Simon and Garfunkel?

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

Remember me to one who lives there.

She once was a true love of mine.

In addition to inspiring and entertaining us, music offers a refuge from the hardships of life. Work songs like “Sixteen Tons” break the monotony of manual labor through a repetitive rhythm. Blues songs like “The Thrill is Gone” empathize with those in despair from a lost love. Hymns like “Amazing Grace” lift our spirits to worship God and deepen our faith. Music is a vehicle for the expression of every human emotion.

Leave a comment and tell me your favorite musical artists. How has music made your world go round?

The Benefits of Being Still

Morning walks are great. The reflection of the bridge in the water demonstrates simple beauty created in stillness. In this post I want to explore how science and faith complement each other.

First, what causes a mirror image?

Reflection happens when light bounces off an object. If the surface is smooth and shiny, the light will bounce back at the same angle it hits the surface. The Latin root, reflectere refers to bending back. We see a mirror image.

The word reflection also means careful consideration or meditation. When I reflect, I allow my mind to think before I act. I hold my tongue before speaking. I seek wisdom before deciding which path to take.

Stillness is essential to receiving wisdom. Job was a man of God who experienced many trials. When trouble abounds, as it did in Job’s life, his friend told him to “Stop and consider the wonders of God.” (Job 36:14) NIV

When we pause long enough to see the wonders of God around us, we get a new perspective on our troubles. We stand face to face with someone bigger than ourselves, our creator. It’s only when we see ourselves in relation to him that we can be free from our misperceptions. God is God and I am not. The water reflects the bridge. It is not the bridge.

Who or what does your life reflect today?

A Little Encouragement Can Go a Long Way

I think everyone can agree 2020 has been tough. Has the pandemic erased your hopes and shattered your dreams? The economic slowdown has affected most of us, including writers. If you feel discouraged, consider the negative voices affecting the way you think about yourself and your work.

What messages influence your thoughts? If we listen to the news media we might wonder if our circumstances will ever change. Will the pandemic last for years? Will we ever be able to make public appearances again? If you’re like me, you can’t even think about scheduling any future events.

Eventually, all the bad news from the media begins to influence the way we think about ourselves. The voice of our inner critic grows louder. It is the voice which brings to mind our past failures and limitations. And if we compare ourselves to others who appear to be more successful, we hinder our own progress because we no longer feel like trying. I never thought the launch of my second children’s book would take place during such challenging times.

Return to Blueberry Street follows Buddy the beagle into a new adventure. When a porch pirate steals his dog treats, Buddy decides to organize a dog crime watch to catch the bandit.

But Buddy has a critic. A Doberman with an attitude bullies him at the dog park. Blitz constantly makes fun of Buddy because he can’t run with the big dogs. How could a loser in red booties like Buddy ever catch the bandit? The little beagle starts to doubt himself and considers giving up.

Buddy’s friend Max tells him, “Don’t worry, with your nose and my feet, we’ll catch the bandit.” Max didn’t ignore Buddy’s weakness. He knew Buddy couldn’t run because of a previous injury. But he recognized Buddy’s amazing sense of smell and encouraged him to not give up. Then Max came alongside to help.

Everyone has limitations. Personally, I started writing late in life. I don’t have a background in business and I struggle with marketing and technology. Everyday I must choose whether or not I will listen to the naysayers who tell me I’m doomed and the inner critic who tells me to quit.

My hope arises when I remember all the people in my life who are like Max. People who encourage me to utilize my strengths and never give up. People who read this blog, and share my posts. And once again I open my laptop and begin to write.

Think about this scripture: “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13

Maybe the Apostle Paul knew when hope is absent, love can lift us up and help us fulfill the calling upon our lives. If you find yourself in a dark place today, think about all of people God placed in your life to encourage you and give you hope. Remember why you started writing in the first place and reconnect with your creativity. A little encouragement can go a long way.

Join Buddy as he learns about the power of friendship in my second book.

Return to Blueberry Street is available in ebook and paperback on Amazon. Click here to purchase.

(Ha! I had to get that last line in somewhere.)

A Bevy of Bad Birthdays

Have you been one of the lucky ones to commemorate your birthday during the pandemic? Actually the way things are going, you might have the opportunity.

When Florida was under lockdown restrictions last spring, I felt sorry for those people whose birthdays were affected. Families felt desperate to do something special for their loved ones and began organizing drive-by celebrations. Friends waved, screamed, and honked as they drove past the home of the birthday boy or girl. Sigh…I wondered if these short-lived celebrations left the recipients feeling even more alone as they watched every car disappear from view?

I remember thinking, “Surely the pandemic will end by the time my birthday comes around in June. My birthday will be awesome.”

WRONG! Three days before my birthday, two family members tested positive for Covid-19. I spent my birthday in quarantine waiting to see if I would exhibit any symptoms. Fortunately, I was in the clear, and my family members recovered. Herb surprised me with a cake and candles, but guests were out of the question.

Fast forward to Herb’s birthday in August. We planned a family party, which is normal for us and I bought a cake mix. Then I realized, “I’d better make cupcakes because Herb will blow out the candles. I can’t serve cake to everyone after he breathes on it.”

So I did. I also gave everyone personal bottles of hand sanitizer and masks for party favors. How’s that for a pandemic birthday?

Did you ever wonder how our birthday traditions came about? Here’s the scoop.

Birthday cakes were first made in Germany during the Middle Ages as part of a child’s celebration known as Kinderfest. A candle was placed on the cake to represent the “light of life.”

Over time, people began adding one more candle to the top of the cake to represent a person’s age. We were all told to blow them out and make a wish.

Since everyone is more fearful of Covid-19 spreading, here’s a little known bit of information. A study by Clemson University in 2017 discovered blowing out your candles increases bacteria by 1400%. (Actually, this isn’t a huge problem unless the birthday boy is ill.) But in the year of the Covid, nothing is sacred.

Yum! More cake anyone? Don’t be surprised if birthday cakes will be next on the list for a Covid-conversion. I expect to see a shortage of cupcake papers in my local grocery soon. I honestly feel like the world will never be the same again.

How many candles fit on a single cupcake? Just look on the bright side. This year you can extinguish the flame of your candle in one breath—and no one will know your age.

Front Porch Friendship

What comes to mind when you think of a front porch? A swing? A rocking chair? An old dog asleep with one eye open? I think of relaxing conversations, sweet tea, and laughter.

For the first time in my life, I live in a house with a front porch. In this coronavirus climate, a front porch is a great place to meet your neighbors and develop relationships. People can stop by for chat and not feel like they’re intruding on your space or time. After all, you must want to talk or you wouldn’t be sitting on the porch, right?

Like most people in my age group, I’ve felt quite isolated during the past four months. My church conducts services on line and my book club meets through Zoom. Even my Wordweavers’ meetings are conducted through Zoom. I’m thankful for technology, but when I have an actual face to face conversation with a person, I feel happier.

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”
– Albert Schweitzer

Pause and think about the friends you have made over the years who rekindled your inner spirit. Friends encourage us to keep going through the hard times. Here are some of the benefits of friendship:

*Friends increase your sense of belonging and purpose.

*Boost your happiness and reduce your stress.

*Improve your self confidence and self worth.

*Help you cope with personal trauma.

*Encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits.

Of course developing and maintaining a friendship requires effort. I’ve had access to a front porch for three weeks and I must admit, I think I’ve sat out there three times. But each time I’ve venture onto the porch, someone always stops by to talk. And I know the investment of my time is worth it.

People need other people, now more than ever.

“If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.”
– Zig Ziglar

Dear Reader, I hope my post has encouraged you to reach out to those around you. Until next time…

When Does a House Become a Home?

Welcome back, readers. I apologize for my absence from cyberspace. During the month of June, Herb and I immersed ourselves in the process of downsizing to move to a new location. Under the best conditions, moving is emotionally and physically exhausting. Add ninety degree temperatures and moving becomes unbearable. Now that we have settled in our new home, I’ve rewarded myself with a nap every afternoon.

Yes, piece by piece we dismantled the old homestead and carried all the things which passed the “keep test” to our new digs. As each picture came down and each knick-knack packed, the old place lost its charm. And when Two Men In A Truck came to carry the furniture out, the empty shell no longer seemed like the same home we’ve known for the past sixteen years.

I highly recommend Two Men and a Truck to anyone making a move. The team carefully handled our belongings and listened to our requests. They also wore face masks in compliance with local Covid-19 mandates.

We were ready to go. Perhaps it was the impact of the pandemic that encouraged us to let go of our sentimental feelings. After all, when you’ve been staring at the same four walls for months on end with no opportunities for travel, you get a little stir-crazy.

Buddy whined the first two nights, but eventually he acclimated to his new environment. Beagles are happy if they can continue to eat, and Buddy never missed a meal. Since we were doing most of the moving ourselves, we involved him in the process by allowing him to supervise.

Once everything was out of the old location, it took awhile to determine how to utilize the space in each room. Even though I thought I’d downsized, I sorted and gave away more clothes when I couldn’t squeeze another item into our closet.

After a few days our family became more comfortable in our new home. We hung a few pictures and placed potted plants on the front porch. During my youth, it always took awhile to break in a pair of new jeans. When you brought them home from the store the fabric felt stiff. After washing and wearing them a few times the jeans softened. In the same way a house becomes a home by living within the space.

“Home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling.” —Cecelia Ahern

A home is made by the people who live there and the love they share. Home is where the heart is. May you be happy in yours.

True Confessions of a Memory Hoarder

“Your home is a living space, not a storage space.”

I never thought of myself as a hoarder. After all, I can still walk through my house. I take the trash out regularly and rarely keep something because I might use it “someday.”

However, I’m beginning to feel differently about myself. We are moving to a smaller place and the process of packing has taught me I am a hoarder. What do I hoard? Memories.

I have saved photos, awards, and every cute drawing each of my children gave me. I saved record albums, tapes, and compact discs. I’ve saved souvenirs from every family vacation. I could go and on. Over a period of forty years I continue to move these “treasures” along with me. Somehow I have failed to realize a person always collects more memories every year. Each year the number of boxes increases. Unless I rent a storage unit, I am out of space.

And what is the point of a storage unit anyway? I can’t imagine spending a few hours visiting the unit to gaze upon my treasures. After all, most of these valuables sit untouched year after year.

I’ve come to the end of the road. The moving van will pull up in two weeks. I’m facing one of the biggest decisions of my lifetime: How to let go.

I’ve got to get back to work. Taking a break to write this post has helped me process my plan. As I examine each artifact I will question its value to my family. Anything my children might want is important. If the item doesn’t pass this test, it can be donated, recycled, or worst case scenario, trashed. I love this quote:
“Your home is living space, not storage space.”
― Francine Jay

I’m ready to live more and remember less. Are you a memory hoarder? Leave a comment and tell me how you freed yourself.

Is Your Anchor Secure?

After Florida began Phase 1 of the reopening, I visited my dentist because I was experiencing pain from TMJ . During the exam my dentist said I was not alone. He has seen more cases of TMJ than ever before. People are not sleeping well and grinding their teeth every night.

I told him I didn’t know why I was so stressed. After all, I’m retired. I haven’t lost my job like some people.

“Well, all you have to do is watch the news to become stressed.” He responded.

During the past three months we’ve viewed images of the global pandemic, economic despair, and social unrest marching across our TV screens each night. We’ve been told to stay in our homes and wear a mask if we must venture out. Most churches, museums, and concert halls remain closed and are still grappling with how to plan for the future.

Today as I pondered what to write about, the image of a great ship came to mind and I remembered this verse of scripture:

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure, it enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain where Jesus who went before us, has entered on our behalf.” —Hebrews 6:19,20

I’ve always wondered how can an anchor keep a ship from drifting out to sea?

Here are the facts: The anchor digs into the seabed and creates resistance which secures the boat.

As a follower of Christ, my soul is anchored in him. In the world there is tribulation, but he has overcome the world. I cannot anchor myself to anything else. Christ is my strength and my hope.

The next part of this verse makes reference to the most holy place in the Hebrew temple. Beyond the curtain was God’s special abode. The hope of the Christian is that we will live eternally with God. This is only made possible through saving faith in the resurrected Christ. Our hope looks to the world beyond this one.

Years ago I visited a resort on the Gulf of Mexico. As I stood on the shore and gazed across the seemingly endless water, I thought, “I can’t see the land on the other side, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

Hope is like that. I can’t see heaven from where I am. Neither can I know what might happen tomorrow. But I am thankful to know the person of Christ, who has promised someday I will join him in heaven. God has planted a desire for perfection in every human heart. Yet, this desire can only be fulfilled by him. No earthly pleasures or achievements can suffice.

Did you know setting an anchor can be difficult? To be sure an anchor is set, a sailor puts the boat in reverse. There is no way to ensure an anchor will hold unless you test it.

This applies to everyday life. Current events have shown me a deeper faith is needed in order to not drift into a sea of despair. By trusting Jesus and relying on his promises, my anchor will hold throughout the trials of this life.

Our Escape to Lake Louisa

Like many of you, I’ve done my share of whining during the past three months. The pandemic has left me stressed, angry, and bored. If you’ve read many of my past writings, you know the one activity I’ve missed most is travel.

Herb and I felt disappointed when the Florida State Parks closed in March. Later, when they reopened on May 4 we were excited until we learned the campgrounds would remain closed. In spite of this information, I reserved a site for Memorial Day weekend at Lake Louisa —a short thirty minute drive west of Orlando. We were ecstatic when the campground opened on May 21, one day before we were scheduled to arrive! We packed our clothes, food, and beagle into the jeep and hitched up our Viking trailer for our great escape.

The weather was hot, after all this is Florida. But we didn’t let the weather phase us. Like all happy campers we couldn’t stop smiling. We set up camp before a tremendous rainstorm hit. Did that bother us? Not in the least. Snug inside our tiny trailer we munched our homemade cheeseburgers and laughed about our good fortune.

Our little home away from home.

The ninety-five degree temperatures continued on Saturday. Fortunately, we were able to cool off under the shade of our awning and a large beach umbrella we brought along.

We made Buddy more comfortable by setting up a fan at either end of his pen.

Ahh… this is more like it!

Over fifty campsites sit upon a strip of land between Dixie Lake and Lake Hammond. As night fell we were treated to a beautiful sunset above Lake Dixie.

And of course, no campout is complete without a campfire.

Even so, the warmer temperatures made it necessary to sit farther away from the flames.

Sunday morning we hiked on one of the park’s lovely trails. Buddy had a great time exploring the area.

Hmm… Who has been here before me?

We measure our distance, and when Buddy has walked one mile, Herb carries him in our doggie backpack. What a good Dad!

Wow! I can see new sights from up. here! I always wanted to be tall.

Although we’ve camped at Lake Louisa before, we noticed a new addition. Three Luxury Carefree Campsites are for rent.

These air-conditioned tents are furnished inside like a hotel room. (No private bathrooms, however.) Sad.

No trips to the real Florida are complete without a gator. Herb took this photo of a baby below the dock on Dixie Lake.

If you are looking for an escape, and don’t mind the Florida summers, consider camping. No face masks required.