Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It Costs More To Be A Woman

In response to the article: Why It Costs More To Be A Woman (click on the title to jump to the article.) I have written the following:

I have been lamenting lately the same thing, not an angry lament, more of a weary, this-is-how-the-world-is lament. I know these things are true and I don't like it, but what are you doing to do about it?

I rarely succumb to the temptation to purchase razors made "for women", as the cost per each is egregious. I find the cost of antiperspirants in general to be outrageous, but the smell of stale sweat coming from my armpits is not desirable, so I cough it up, though I have done trial and error until I only buy what works for me.

I have cut men and women's hair. The time factor is negligible. A man may be a little less fussy about the cut, though many men today are more fussy than ever, but there is the neck shaving and sometimes a facial shave as well. The justification is bogus. The services that take time are actually included in the price whether they are used or not. I mean I often shampoo my own hair because I sometimes have allergic reactions to shampoos. If it is a nice day out, the hairdresser may not fully style my hair, though that is included in the price at most places. Some, the ones that do ala carte services, are also the ones that seem to charge virtually the same whether you are male or female. In these places, I've had good and bad haircuts. The lady cutting my hair at Great Clips in Colorado Springs gave me about the best haircuts of my life. My most recent on at Great Clips in MD? The reviews aren't so good.

Many things are ridiculously expensive for women. I will happily use men's antiperspirant as long as it doesn't SMELL like a man. I can't wear their shirts without major tailoring and it is impossible to wear their jeans. My husband can get his jeans at Sam's Club for $13. The cut is standard and the denim is heavy. These jeans are a far better bargain than what is currently sold in any local store in the woman's department. Without my consent or approval, someone made the decision to eliminate heavyweight denim jeans with sturdy construction, in favor of "stretch denim", which is far less practical, lasts about a third as long, and costs the same as the old jeans I prefer. Where may I go to purchase the jeans I loved? I may have them custom made, or buy them through a catalog, now at least 2-3 times the cost of the jeans I bought a few years back. But my husband can buy his for $13.

Don't get me started on decent dressy work trousers. Again, try to find any made of a high quality sturdy material with a nice hand at ANY price made for a woman. But my husband can walk into any Ross or Marshalls and find a nice trouser for under $20 near any day of the week.

Can someone explain why I have to pay over $30 for a decent bra? Is making a bra some feat of engineering with construction so ingenious as to make it a difficult proposition? No. I used to work in a lingerie factory, and while I was never privy to the price points and manufacturing costs, I can assure you that they are in no way an expensive garment to manufacture.

At $30+ each, I must spend a minimum of $210 simply to have enough for a week. And are these garments long-lasting? According to the fitter in the lingerie department, none of these garments are designed to last more than 6 months. Nor can they hold up under normal laundry conditions. No, they must be hand-laundered and hung to dry, else they face an early extinction. If I want pretty or lacy or the latest sexy style, they are even more flimsily constructed and cost even more. Hooray.

There are some justifications for some of these price differences. A woman's tailoring is often a bit more detailed, a couple of darts or seams that a man's equivalent will not have, but otherwise, two identical items should have reasonably identical prices, right? What is the cost to put in a dart and a fitted seam? It doesn't take substantially longer, and should not justify the price difference.

When I was younger, I lived in a small town and it had a store with clothing for young men and a rack of clothing I can only call rodeo queen attire. I purchased men's jeans to fit my hips and took in 6 inches off the waist. I am no longer comfortable doing those kinds of alterations, as I am much more conscious of the quality of tailoring than I was in those days, and my own tailoring does not meet my standards.

Don't even get me started on hose.

I guess my point is that it costs to be a woman. Some men seem to think that women are frivolous or poor negotiators and pat themselves on the back for it, but what do you do when your dry cleaner charges an extra dollar each to dry clean your shirts? They all do it, and complaining hasn't yet gotten them to drop their prices. They very snottily talk about how difficult they are to press. Oh really? Seems like the equipment isn't made properly then. I dislike ironing, but find it no more difficult or time-consuming to iron my shirts than it does to iron my husband's.

It isn't the cut, because I can bring in a boxy women's blazer and get charged more for it than a man's Italian cut blazer, which surely is more difficult to handle than mine.

Oh, I'm not going to win any debate here, nor am I stating any new thing. But it isn't because women are poor negotiators. It is because certain things are expected of us that are NOT expected of a man. In one job it was not-so-subtly suggested that I should wear makeup for a professional appearance. At the time I was not having skin problems, and was always neatly and professionally attired and well-groomed. I did not then, nor do I now see the point of covering my skin with a load of expensive makeup that clogs my pores and causes me to break out, nor did I see the point of spending $50 a month on my nails as the other women in the office did.

If it is okay for John Doe to come in with a fresh-scrubbed face, neatly combed hair and a nice suit on, then that should work for me as well. I'm not manly, nor am I trying to make some feminist point, but I do sometimes resent that while I make far less than a man, my life costs more. Not because I am frivolous, but because the simple things in life are, for women, more expensive.

If I were to tell my husband he was required to spend $210 every six months on underwear, he would flip out. Why do these manufacturers and retailers DARE to charge this for me? So, what really am I to do about these things? Nothing I can do really, except make the wisest and most frugal decisions possible, and occasionally rant about the cost of being a woman.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

And there were no needy persons among them...

I have been vocal lately about how inadequate the church seems to be in meeting the needs of those in our midst. I was distraught and angry when I heard about a woman whose life has fallen apart when her husband suffered a massive stroke after he was laid off and without health insurance. She is underemployed, has young children, is visiting her husband each day in the nursing home where he requires round the clock care and is totally incapacitated. She is losing her home, the utilities are on final notice and her health is in jeopardy due to the stress of it all.

I asked you and I asked me, where is the church in this? It seems to me that we should be gathering together and saying what do we do about _______? We should be opening our pockets, someone should be stepping up to help her find the assistance she needs, or opening their home to her and to her children, bringing them meals, serving them in any way we can.

As I sat pondering and upset with how the church is not doing it's job, it occurred to me that I AM the church. It is MY job. And I realized that I needed to take 1/2 of the money I have been saving toward a new camera and give it to this woman. Do not praise me. It was not easy. There is a part of me that says that maybe I should have given all of it. I don't know. But I do know that what I gave I was SUPPOSED to give.

And now I am asking you, dear readers, to consider how we might, as the church, reach out to this woman. I am asking you to pass along this post and let people know that they may contact me if they wish to give to help this woman as she tries to survive until the various charities that she is applying for help with decide if they are going to help her. I have been openly critical of the church, but I know that the people of the church love God and love others. Sometimes we are blind and selfish and need someone to just point out the hurting among us.

The need is real, and the need is urgent. This woman needs to know the love of Christ in a tangible way. Let's not tell her be warmed and filled.

I am selling prints of the photos I am showing here to raise money to help. At least half of all funds (after printing expenses) are going to help this woman. Make no mistake, there is no tax write-off. NONE. But I'm asking people to step up and help.

5x7 prints $15/ea
8x10 prints $22/ea
Matting and framing available. Contact me for pricing.

If you are interested, please comment below, or if you have my personal email or phone number, you may check in that way, but please mention ACTS 4 PHOTOS in your comment or email subject line. Thank you.

Back to forgiveness

Sometimes the people I most need to forgive are the last one's I WANT to forgive. They are the least deserving. They don't acknowledge their wrongdoing; they don't ask for forgiveness. As we all are supposed to know, these are the very people we need to forgive. Jesus died for us while we were still in our sins. He came to earth for people who had no idea they were doing something wrong, and for those who knew and did it anyway. He forgave me when I did not ask, he paid the price when I willfully sinned. His actions, his forgiveness is not based on my feeling badly enough, or understanding the depths of my own depravity, or even acknowledging the level of pain I brought upon him. I am incapable of grasping the weight of sins I caused him to bear. But he forgave, and so must I.

I must use him as my example, to forgive what has been done to me, for the sake of the love he has shown me. And when I cannot forgive, I simply need ask him to help me, to show me, to teach me to forgive. I ask him to show me my tormentor through his eyes, and I see them through the lens of love and compassion that I may not have on my own.

I am humbled and repentant when I see the one I will not forgive through HIS eyes. When the Spirit reveals to me the hardness in my own heart, my heart begins to melt and I weep.

I long for the day when forgiveness pours out of me. I long for the day when I diminish and Christ increases to the point where his reaction is mine. Where his heart rules my heart. When mercy is my first thought. When pity moves me and when I cannot hate my fellow man.

Oh how I wish I were there. But God isn't finished with me...He will continue the work he has begun.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Rotten little playground bastard.

I despise fibromyalgia. This morning I woke up because of pain so severe that in my dreams I couldn't move one leg. When I woke it took me quite some time to convince myself that despite the pain I could move anyway. FM is a freakin' bastard. It's that kid on the playground that lays in wait for you to get involved in something then jumps out and hits your legs out from under you with a bat. You try to forget, but he never leaves, never really goes away.


I received an email today from the salesperson who sold me my 97 Yukon. "It's been a year!" it trumpeted, and went on to ask for my future and referral business. I wrote the following reply:

It HAS been a year. We no longer have the Yukon as the mechanical needs were so extensive I'm writing it off as lesson learned. Only buy a vehicle that a trusted mechanic has looked at. Do NOT allow your better judgment to be shushed because someone tells you that the reason for the low, low price is to get people through the door to look at other vehicles. No, the reason for the low, low price is that there are major flaws with the vehicle. Not that I'm blaming anyone but myself. I should have listened to that voice in my head. That being said, I really loved the vehicle and even drove it cross-country, which was likely fool-hardy in it's condition. Would I ever buy another vehicle from Liberty? Probably not, but only because I'd be 1) too embarrassed by my own stupidity, 2) wondering if I would be foolish enough to listen to another sales pitch, and 3) on edge, wondering if the next vehicle I was looking at contained some horrible flaw which would come back to bite me in no time at all. I'm very unpleasant when I'm on edge and wouldn't want to put you (or me) through that.

Thankfully, I will likely never have to decide whether to purchase another vehicle from your dealership as I have moved to Maryland and now get to test the veracity and honor of a host of other dealerships. But I think for now, I will simply focus on finding a good and trustworthy mechanic to thoroughly inspect any used vehicle I would purchase, so that I don't simply take a dealer's word for the condition of the car, particularly if they are selling it "AS IS".

I nearly hit send, but even though what I wrote is true, it isn't the whole truth. We DID after all get in an accident. The accident made the mechanical problems even worse. We would have had to replace the vehicle without the accident, but leaving out the accident is, well, less than truthful. And the entire note was less than kind.

I'm hugely embarrassed by my part in the whole thing. I'm 45 years old. I know better. I did something foolish, like foregoing a $60 mechanics fee when buying a vehicle. Penny-side, pounds foolish.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


I came across a traffic ticket that someone else received. It offered the chance to simply cover it with a fine and a signature and checking that you either agree with the charges as filed or to mark "no contest" (or the latin equivalent thereof.)

I think this person should pay the fine, check one of the boxes and sign on the dotted line. It's over, it's settled, it's done. It's not a matter of fight it because it's wrong, it's a just charge. This person doesn't think so. No one else, when confronted with the facts of the incident see things as this person sees them, but that's how it goes.

I look at the situation and see bad consequences if this person doesn't pay up and sign it away. In fact, I was tempted to pay it for this person, check one of the boxes for them...but there's the sticky part. The signature. I can't do this for them.

It occurs to me that we all come to this place in life. We've done something wrong. By our very nature, we are sinful and separated from God. We have the charge from the governing authority, God, and God himself has paid the fine. There is only one box to check--Guilty as charged. But there is the signature line. Ah the signature line.

I cannot do that for another. All I can do is to urge them to sign away and take the payment that has already been made. Otherwise the charge stands. Sign away and accept the payment on your behalf and it's wiped away. Done. Gone.

Some of us want to protest that we're not guilty. Ahh, it's on tape. So we argue anything and everything to keep from admitting our guilt. We don't want our name on that line.

Some people think they would rather sign for their guilt and pay their own fine, but the fine is more than they have ever or will ever own. But they're gonna keep trying, perhaps doing community service, to try to wipe away the fine, or to wipe away their own guilt. It doesn't work. All they need to do is to sign.

I'm grateful that God himself was willing to pay the fine for me. Can you imagine the courtroom where the judge hands down the sentence and then pays it himself?

Amazing. Wonderful.

Friday, December 04, 2009


So many hurting people and a faith tradition that I don't believe answers sufficiently the trials and troubles we face in this life. How is it that our expectations became so distant from the truth of scripture? I have had people tell me that God will step in, that he will heal, that he will change the circumstance, that he will lift us out of trouble. I have puzzled over that for years.

The Bible that I read says that Stephen was stoned, that sometimes a prophet was beaten, imprisoned, stoned, one was sawn in pieces. Most of the apostles were martyred, many of the first century Christians as well--Nero was known for using Christians as torches. Every one that I can think of who was mightily used of God led lives of suffering. Not everyone mentioned in Scripture, but the mighty ones.

How does this mesh with our belief that God is in the business of making our lives okay? Even when our theology disagrees with this belief, our internals are set (at least here in America) for rescue, earthly reward, etc. We buy into the beliefs that all we have to do is work hard, live cleanly, go to church, watch our tongues and try to clean up the behavior of society and our lives will go well. Our careers will flourish, our bank accounts increase and our later years will be easy.

We struggle when people have problems. We struggle when their children go astray, and we find all the reasons why, usually things that blame the parents and make us feel better because, since we are doing everything right, our children will not fall into the same things. We struggle when someone suffers from cancer, or when a friend becomes a young widow and we comfort with the lamest offerings we have--God means it for the best, and God has better things for you, or just look at what God will teach you! We don't suffer with them, we recoil from their trouble. It messes with our safety. If we acknowledge that these things aren't the result of their individual failings, or that they aren't some wonderful path they are on, then we acknowledge that we may have to suffer as well.

We turn from the family who is underemployed when they have to turn to social services for help. Well, they shouldn't have to go to social services for help. They should be taken care of by the church! The early church did just that. "And there were no needy persons among them." Read Acts 4.

The thing is, we were promised suffering. We were promised the difficult path. The Joel Osteen's of the world want you to believe that there is something wrong in that. They deny what scripture teaches and their words make me want to puke! Seriously. They are a vile distortion of scripture.

We are promised suffering. We are promised trials. Not, ohmygosh, I couldn't find a decent parking space at the mall today kind of trials, but real soul-wrenching, faith-stretching difficulties.

Some of us will have God step in and rearrange the circumstances. He provides some with miraculous healings, some with that tremendous job at just the right time. He provides those Lifetime Movie moments for some. But sometimes (and for me it seems more often than not) he does not intervene. God allows the bad thing. He allows the failures, the loss, the discouragement, the cruelty of others. He allows the loss of possession, the failure of the family or the church, the financial devastation, the job loss, the humiliation of government or charitable assistance. He allows the loss of a precious daughter, that special friend, the husband and provider. He allows a man to walk out on his wife for another woman or for a man. He allows a mother to walk out on her children. He allows parents to abuse their children and children to torment their parents. So very often he does not step in. What then?

Seriously, what then?

If you are a reasonably serious student of scripture I think these things should not surprise us. We should not be surprised by trials of various description. We were promised them. We were promised that the testing of our faith would produce endurance. We were promised the endurance would complete the work. We are promised that we will suffer many things for Christ's sake.

That's not what we want. Heck, it's not what I want. So often I look at others and see God rescue them when he is not rescuing me and I wonder, "why?" It's not a mildly curious question, it is a gut-wrenching, depth-of-my-soul question.

I used to beat myself up for those questions, and for asking God to deliver me out of my trials when it appeared he wanted me to walk through them. Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane asked to be rescued from his upcoming suffering. He asked over and over in a torment that we are told made him sweat as it were drops of blood. That's some serious torment. That's some serious praying. We are told that after hours of this praying--alone, because his friends couldn't be bothered to stay awake while he is suffering so--he says, 'nevertheless, not my will but yours.'

And that's the key. I do not understand suffering. I can't explain it. I still prefer the miraculous saves. I know God could have stepped in and healed 18-year-old Alyssa even at the moment of her death. He did not. Why? I don't know. But I know my faith is tested through it.

My faith is not tested when God steps in and does the miraculous Lifetime Movie Moment save. It's joyous and I celebrate his goodness with everyone else, but God is good when he doesn't step in, just as he is when he does. God's love is no less when he elects to allow our suffering than when he elects to lift us out of it.

I need to remember this. My faith is useless unless it can deal with the bad things. It is useless to me and useless to others.

When Uncle Robb was dying of pancreatic cancer, he had been suffering for a long time, but really doing much better than I expected. I visited him one day in one of those moments where I just knew I was supposed to go right then. Things were falling apart. It was a cold snap and the window guys were there replacing the old, drafty windows. He seemed rattled. We were standing in his kitchen. The power snapped off in half of his house (I still don't understand this one) and it was the half with the furnace. At that moment, he crumpled. I don't know how I saw it, because his outward posture didn't change, but I saw it anyway. He said, "I've lost hope." I knew what he meant, and for a change I had the right words.

I reached out and wrapped my arms around him, after all, I knew he was dying from the moment I heard his diagnosis. Don't ask me how, but I felt that this time God wasn't stepping in. And there were signs along the way that told me to prepare for his death. Anyway, with my arms around him, I smiled and said, "You haven't lost hope. You've only lost hope for healing in this world. You still have every hope for healing in the next." Robb died fairly peacefully. He was in hospice around two weeks, and in that time was cheerful and sweet and unfailingly appreciative of everything people did to care for him. He was precious.

I miss him and may never stop missing him. I cannot explain his suffering away. I will not try to. I accept that this was an awful thing. Horrible. Terrible. Many things in life are. I have two friends my age and younger who are suffering from cancer. My neighbor back home is just finishing up her final round of chemo from this bout of cancer (it's her second.) Alyssa went home to be with the Lord a short time ago, and God has allowed us to lose our house. I cannot explain these things. I cannot explain away or put a happy face on the suffering that my friends are going through.

What I cling to and come back to is that God says he loves us. He says he is good. If I believe anything it is that he is who he says he is and that my understanding of that does not change it. If I need evidence, the cross should be all the evidence I need, but I am weak and sometimes (okay, usually) require more. God being God, there is no shortage of evidence of his might, his power, his glory and his love.

When I get messed up is when I expect God to step in and stop people from doing terrible things to each other. I get messed up when I assume that we are supposed to live a financially successful, disease-free and trouble-free life, or that because God can do something means that he is required to do it--for me.

Let me never try to encourage someone by telling them that God will rescue them. From experience I know that God can and sometimes does rescue us. From experience I also know that sometimes he does not. May I never tell someone that they just need to believe, as if their faith is the issue, not God's will. When I give false promises, when I tell people that, I am stealing the faith and hope that is real. I deny the truth of scripture.

I hear such nonsense and I want to spit. Ptuey! I was once told that our car breaking down was not "the abundant life that God promised" and that if I had faith it would not happen. "Don't you believe God loves you?" the prayer line lady asked. I thought of Stephen at that moment. I mean gimme a break. Was Stephen stoned because of a lack of faith? Was it because God did not love him enough? Was Jesus crucified because he wasn't grasping hold of the abundant life? Or is that faith sad and weak and useless for the reality of life?

Your life and my life will have trials. God may miraculously carry you out of yours. Excellent! God may not. Praise him anyway. He is worthy of praise, not just because of what he does for us day by day, but because of who he is! God may part the Red Sea, or dry the river Jordan, or he may hold us in the midst of the flood. He may rescue us or walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death. He may heal or he may not. Nevertheless, not my will, but his. It was good enough for Jesus.
Haven't posted much lately. My fault, she says, stating the obvious. I am in a funk. In limbo. I have no right to be there. God is on the throne, I am warm and filled, had one of the best Thanksgivings I can remember. At least on par with Thanksgivings with the Mattice's and our friends from CCR. Have been helping at church, and am heading out to work some more in a couple of minutes, but the truth is--really, and just between you and me, that though I have more time on my hands now than I have had in a while I do not spend enough time in the word. I have a feeling that this is what is behind my general malaise and dissatisfaction. I am not feasting on God.

Granted, I have not filled my new eyeglass prescription and that makes reading smaller print difficult, so I haven't been reading a lot of anything recently which is totally unlike me, but still...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lone Surfer

I have a friend who is back in school and it is safe to say that she is in her late 40's. This is not the common thing amongst the people she knows. Neither her church nor her family, I would expect, provides a lot of support. As I was looking through my photos today this one struck me. A lot of times when I watch surfers it is a group of them, egging each other on to do better and laughing when one biffs it. This guy is out in less than ideal surf weather. It was a stormy day. It didn't rain where we were, but it was cool and blowing. Most people stayed away. But this guy, and a few brave or crazy others, went out in the colder temps and caught some more spectacular waves.

As I looked at this photo, I wanted to tell my friend, "See? This is what you are doing! You are out surfing alone catching the big wave. Is it risky? Is it lonely? You bet. But look at you go!"

I want to be that brave surfer, the one who goes where safety is not guaranteed, who faces the wind and cold and seeks after the God who has revealed himself in the narrow paths, in the dark valleys, in the choppy seas. Does he reveal himself in the huge stadiums with the pretty preacher with his big grin and self-help doctrine? Does he reveal himself in safety? Or does he show himself when we are tested and challenged, when struggle and trials of all descriptions come?

Sometimes that means we have to leave even the safety of our friends, to seek deeper, to find more, to delve into scripture in ways that few dare to go. Does this make us freaks? Likely. How about radical obedience? How about radical understanding of grace which allows for things like the loss of home, loss of friends, loss of life. How about walking the path He sets which seems to be so foreign to our understanding. How often when he tells me to do something do I ask, really? Puzzling. I cannot see the way through. But I want that radical faith.

I just wish that sometimes it were safer, warmer, more gentle and more socially acceptable.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Got a call about a job today. NOT! I had a feeling when the guy started talking a mile a minute he was talking about an outside sales position and when I asked him a question to ascertain what the position was he hung up on me. So...AFLAC is not going to be my new employer. Several of them have called or emailed me since I put my updated resume on one of the national job boards. They are "so excited" about my qualifications and experience. I think they are excited that I can fog a mirror and can apparently write a coherent sentence.

Is this it? Are these the available jobs now? Outside sales positions? I called the census bureau about their upcoming jobs and they are supposed to contact me about upcoming testing for census takers. I was trying for administrative jobs and am still hopeful. Ah well.

Hooray. I did not spend any money today. Oh wait, I bought Steve his lunch stuff at the grocery store. Forgot my foo-foo coffee creamer though. Bummer! I avoided the 1)mall, 2)thrift stores, 3)second-hand furniture stores, 4)Starbucks(!) and 5)book stores. All in all an amazing day when you look at it that way.

Also I colored my hair last night with one of those two part kind where you do an all-over color first and then add the highlights. I'm allergic to the first part so I did my usual--two Claritin and two Benadryl. I was so sleepy after the Benadryl hit that I didn't do the highlight part. At the moment my hair looks similar to my natural shade. I think. It was supposed to be a medium blond. I think I'm gonna have to go ahead and do the highlights because after I wash it a few times it will lighten up considerably. At least this time it isn't orange-y.

Ah more rambling. Well, tomorrow is another day. I wonder what I shall do with it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's a Good (will) Thing

Finally feeling a bit better and a bit stir crazy, so I took a drive to Bel Air, some 16 miles northeast of here. I was on a brief road trip recently when I decided to stop in at the roadside Goodwill Superstore. Now, I take exception to the term "superstore" in relation to the local Goodwill store. It is most definitely not "super". It's small, has crappy selection, is over-priced (like most everything else here in Maryland) and smells funny.

The Goodwill in Bel Air is bigger, has a lot more furniture (and since we got rid of most of ours before moving, I am definitely on the lookout), more decent clothing, a better selection of linens and shoes. Now if you know me and my aversion to used shoes, you will know that this is a growth area for me.

Today I found a pair of barely worn Clarks for $8. And they're green!

Also, the beautiful lined trenchcoat I saw last time was still there. $20 for a really expensive trenchcoat! And since it rains so much here that seems like a very useful item to have.

The best item of today's visit is a set of KitchenAid pots and pans (red!) for $28. These are the very one's I have looked at for ages in the department store but could not bring myself to shell out the cash.

There were some other awesome buys, but I let them pass. A pair of beautiful blackout lined coppery brown curtains with a beautifully stitched diamond pattern for $25. With each panel costing about $80-120 retail, this is a STEAL. But I'll have to let someone else steal it :(

I'm considering purchasing, and revitalizing furnishings for resale on Craigslist. I think I could do it as long as I'm careful to select items that don't require heavy-duty refinishing and as long as the place we move to has easy access.

Living on the third floor (no elevator) makes this impractical right now.

I am looking forward to moving soon. We haven't figured out where just yet, but are still hoping to get into Virginia. Steve found a reasonable rental price then asked me if 450 square feet was enough room. Ummmm. No. I think not. Of course once I am locked up in the local psych ward for treatment of my severe claustrophobia, I'm sure Steve would be quite comfortable.

Some interesting news today...Steve may be under consideration for long-term work overseas! Possibly in Germany. He asked me what I thought and I said, when do we leave? Are you kidding me? How incredibly awesome is that?

I wonder if I can do online school from out of the country? I'm sure I can, don't the military guys do that when they are posted out of the country?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

On Bankruptcy

I have been hesitant to write on this subject, because to do so opens me up to criticism and because it is a personal decision that people seem to feel the right to require your justification. Also it was so incredibly painful that I really didn't want my open wounds to show. But probably the biggest reason is that in my family no one talked about money. Money was even more private than sex. We were warned that you didn't talk about it, you didn't ask questions, that the entire subject was off-limits. It was considered rude. As a result I was so spectacularly uneducated about money (terribly frugal, but uneducated) that when my husband was making $24,000/year with two little kids and me as a stay-at-home mom, I couldn't understand why we were struggling financially. After all, $24,000 is a lot of money, right?

I was reading a financial blog that I subscribe to and the author made a comment about bankruptcy and the people who file it. He commented that he thought it should be both harder to file and have harsher consequences. As someone who used to feel this way myself, I felt I must respond, which I did in a private email to the author.

Harsher penalties for bankruptcy? So spectacular business failure, enormous shame, losing one's home and often one's health, etc. isn't enough?

There comes a point at which bankruptcy is the only thing that keeps a person from driving off of a bridge.

Predatory and harassing collection practices that have some creditors call up to 50 times a day can increase the stress level of the one in debt to the breaking point.

If you think bankruptcy is a free pass, think again. One of the reasons people get into debt and cannot get out is that the inability to pay a series of bills, say medical bills, reduces your credit score. Everything you do costs more after that. Insurance costs more, the used car you buy to get to work costs more, and if you tap into the equity you've built up in your home for years to pay off these mounting bills, now your house costs more.

If you think bankruptcy is a free pass, think of the financial pain that still continues. And yes, there are some people who seem to have figured out how to play the system, but for most it is an option only slightly favorable to death.

I talked to a bankruptcy attorney that I know about this very thing. This is one of those attorneys that is such a decent upstanding guy that I couldn't figure out why he had specialized in bankruptcy. He told me that most people who come to him waited far too long, trying to work things out on their own. Often by the time they come to him their health has suffered dramatically and they have endured absolute hell trying to make things right. For some, bankruptcy's primary function isn't debt relief, it is to stop the calls and to alleviate some of the stress that is so destructive.

I know a guy working three jobs. His wife, though suffering from debilitating health problems, nonetheless works full-time. They cannot make ends meet. It isn't that they've been foolish, it's that what was a profitable industry has turned on him, and the jobs he has been able to find in no way replace the income he was once able to count on.

After years of this, they are drowning, yet still he works three jobs, keeps looking for better and works harder than most anyone I know, but it is to no avail. Walking into their home is a sad thing now. They have sold off nearly everything they own to keep the lights on and food on the table (which, so far, they have been able to keep), but they cannot keep the wolves at bay. They have had their house on the market for a long time, given up their cars and now drive the beat-up cars that friends have given to them, trying to keep them running to get back and forth to work. Bankruptcy isn't an easy answer for these people, but it may be the only thing that keeps them out of the Red Cross Shelter.

There are many who seem to be unaffected by the difficulties of these times. I'm happy for them, but our compassion for those that are pushing a huge boulder up a hill only to have it roll back on top of them over and over again can be lacking.

Between the two of us, over the last 2 years my husband and I have both been unemployed, me for 11 months now, and my husband was unemployed for 8 months. He earns twice what I earned, so his was by far the most devastating, but we had no contingency for this moment. All our emergency savings are gone. Even when my husband found work it was out of state and so we were trying to support two households. Think its easy to sell in this market? How about when you are caring for elderly parents in your home?

We are not alone in this situation. And we weren't out buying toys and gadgets, nor were we spending frivolously, unless you consider food and utilities frivolous and unnecessary.

Unfortunately, bankruptcy is seen this way by most people. It is seen as benefiting the undisciplined masses who don't work hard, buy too many toys and are just trying to take advantage of the situation.

Perhaps some would like to bring back slavery as an option or perhaps would like to see the poor farms reopened. One of the horrors of my childhood was driving past the "poor farm" where indebted people and their families were forced to farm huge plots of land and live in this dark, dingy depressing hulk of a building as they atoned for the crime of being poor. Even years after it closed it still maintained its air of abject misery.

Predatory lending practices abound, and it is perfectly legal to take advantage of the poor. Payday loan places are an example of this. The poor do not have access to a friendly banker who will assist them with a short-term loan to fix that transmission, nor do they have access to a vast emergency fund to cover the expenses of unexpected illness, broken down vehicle, etc. When they turn to the payday loan places (because they must have the medication, they must fix their car to get to work, or the have run out of groceries) they are charged 600% interest or more. Of course I add into this figure the so-called fees, which are charged every two weeks.

So a person taking out a loan for two weeks (the maximum time allotted) will pay $60 for a $300 loan. On his/her next payday, it is unlikely that they can spare the $360 to pay off the debt in it's entirety, so they will continue the loan by paying the $60. Another $60 will come due in 2 weeks, and so on and so on. What was a one-time emergency has now become a $120/month drain on income. Add to this the premium this person is paying for deposits on everything, this person is trying to run uphill in the mud.

Try complaining to your congressman about this predatory lending practice. Or your senator. Write to those on the banking committee. You will receive a polite response that these businesses provide a valuable service to the poor.

No. Just like everyone else, these businesses prey on the poor, taking advantage of their poverty and adverse circumstances to make a buck.

And yes, the middle class also has their share of financial woes which lead to bankruptcies. For all your great planning, no one can be fully prepared for every emergency and catastrophe. Illness, a wayward child, natural disasters, unemployment...these things can cripple you and hit you over and over, or coming all at once are a tidal wave that sweeps you under, despite all your planning and saving.

It isn't an easy way out. It isn't a character defect. In fact as a fellow person of faith, I challenge you to read the portions of Deuteronomy that talk about the year of release (KJV). This is what changed my mind about the stigma of bankruptcy. God never intended for a person to be in perpetual debt, in perpetual poverty. Every seven years all debt was to be wiped away. And God never intended for people to lose their homes. He granted lands to his people. It wasn't owned by another or taxed by government (and thus only yours if you can pay the taxes). It belonged to you and to your family forever.

Reading on, puzzling over and meditating on these things has changed my perspective on God's view of debt, poverty, foreclosures, and bankruptcies.

When our business failed, we were in it so deep with receivables that we could not collect, from deep-pocketed contractors whose job in life seemed to be to avoid paying their legitimate debts, deep into it with a contractor who stopped payment after accepting our bid and signing a contract simply because they found someone else who would do the work more cheaply...We had suppliers who over-billed, double-billed and then went around us so that our contractors paid their inflated bills before paying us. We were too small to fight them all. The legal bills would have bankrupted us as quickly as what they did to us.

Did we make mistakes? Certainly. The biggest was in thinking that doing our job, doing it well, professionally and with excellence was enough. It was not. We were also supposed to be legal experts, contract enforcement experts, and have voluminous resources at our disposal to pay for their projects then fight it out in court.

When it got so bad that I couldn't eat, hadn't eaten in over 30 days without throwing up, had lost over 20 pounds in less than a month, when I could not even answer the phone any more...we started to face the music. This was not a win-able war we were fighting. Our accountant had been telling us that we needed to file for bankruptcy for a while, but we kept fighting on, trying to pay down our debts and beat this through sheer determination and hard work.

We hadn't been paid in two years. The end was in sight, the corner being turned when at the worst possible moment, a contract was pulled after having been signed and paid for, the check canceled just moments after being deposited, and our supplier began double-charging us, not crediting us the refunds we were due, and generally making our lives hell.

Was bankruptcy an easy choice? No. It was horrible. It is humiliating, shameful, and rocked me to the core of my being. I have never felt like a worse person. Suicide is not an option for me. I don't believe in it, and I would not want my kids to have to clean up our financial mess, but what it came down to is this--with my income (I quit the business and found a decent job) I could not pay down off our debts and survive (!) in less than 20 years. As it turns out, I only had that job for one year (long enough for the bankruptcy to go through) before our entire branch closed.

I'm not whining. Just explaining that I don't know how I would have survived it except for the surprising comfort I found in Deuteronomy. Reading that it was not God's intention that his people be in perpetual debt but that he created a safety valve--a release from debt--made me able to once again lift my head.

We aren't on easy street. In spite of the bankruptcy, we are losing our house. Our finances were predicated on being able to keep our jobs at least long enough to fully replenish our emergency funds. Both our industries are in the dumpster right now. We have sold off most of our belongings and I am currently sitting in an apartment far from home, with someone's cast off couch, a cardboard box as an end table, a single lamp I was able to cart across country. We have no credit card debt, and are keeping up with the medical bills--barely.

I'm not complaining. Really. I just think that perhaps you don't know the toll a bankruptcy has on you. It's horrific.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pop Quiz

Tonight I remedied one of the deficits of this apartment. Nothing but cardboard boxes and an upturned 5 gallon bucket for end tables. This great buy found on Craigslist turned into a pop quiz on contentment as my eyes were enticed by the beautiful upscale condominium and extraordinary furnishings.

The woman was very nice and had the kind of self-confidence that comes from being thin, beautiful, successful and well-off. I felt incredibly frumpy, poor and unattractive next to her. All of my flaws were on display, not just to her, but even more to me. I left there ashamed of my hair, my clothes, my vehicle, my home, and my life. I fought with myself half the way home, knowing that my dissatisfaction is nothing other than sin and a lack of gratitude for what God has provided and resentment that he doesn't provide for me as he has this woman.

I had to repent. Oh how wicked and tricky my heart is. Just when I think I'm fine, when I have been reminded of the important things in life, like the life and health of my children, my great friends, my salvation, my Lord, I am blindsided with a test that nearly fells me. Just when I think my eyes are on Christ, I look down at the waves, at my leaky boat, and I so quickly fall.

SeanSean plotted a course for me there that took me through town rather than on the Interstate as I would have preferred. Not knowing how to get around downtown, I sighed and followed his lead through some rather dicey areas, run down, beat up, boarded up, depressed areas that were, if not scary, a bit unnerving.

Strange how my thoughts did not thank God for providing so well for me that I did not live in these places where shots ring out almost nightly and bars on the windows still don't make you feel safe and secure. I was not thanking God for my blessings, rather irritated that others had it so well. Not my proudest moment.

So on my trip back home from that luxury condo, I prayed, asking forgiveness from the God who gives that liberally, and I thanked him for many of the things I am grateful for. And I thanked him that this lovely woman wanted to sell her beautiful ottoman on Craigslist rather than moving it with her. Would I ever pay retail for it? Not likely. I'm too frugal for that.

Friday, September 18, 2009

No Constants on My Horizon But God

I recently wrote the following to a friend in response to their newsletter. It states things perhaps as clearly as I have communicated them so I thought I would share it here. It is the beginnings, I think for an article or message on dealing with the struggles of this time--our troubled economy, joblessness, foreclosures, bankruptcies, and fears of all descriptions.

I especially resonated with the last note from you. Lately I have been feeling the same way. Everything in life is changing and I feel I understand the Israelites in their desert wandering and complaining more and more. The impermanence of their existence, never having a clue what tomorrow brings, is a state which seems similar to your path and to mine.

For a long time I rather envied that they had the cloud as a visible reminder of God's presence and direction, but I have started thinking how much better off we are. They could not hear their God, he spoke to them through intermediaries. Sure they saw a representation of his presence all the time, but they did not know him on a personal level. So we are able to hear from God personally, and while it seems that some have a stable even-keeled life, we are not those people. We do not have that. In fact I can think of few people in Scripture who, in following after God and being called by him, had that stable life.

It seems to me, and I'm no theologian, that God takes his people--the one's I call God's Guys and God's Gals, and the paths he sets them on are defined by requiring dependence on Him and Him alone.

One further word...the speaker on Sunday said something I had never thought of before. He was talking about our misplaced devotion to stuff, and talked about Paul learning to be content in whatever state he is in, whether in poverty or in want. He pointed out that Paul LEARNED this. I take comfort in that. It appears that I am in the School of Contentment--I think I've reached college, but the finals are awful. It's the practicums that are messing with my GPA if you know what I mean. It isn't necessarily finances that we have to deal with in the area of contentment, though that is part of it, for me it is that wandering feeling, when there are no constants on my horizon but God.

The walks of God's Guys and God's Gals are the stuff of legend. They make great epic tales. Epic tales are hard to live through, however. You all are in an epic tale of your own. "We went to start a school in Thailand..." may be the first sentence of your narrative, much like "I had a farm in Africa..." (Out of Africa) and mine may be "Whatever it takes." I prayed... And thus our stories begin in seemingly simple ways, but the telling of them involves much chaos and suffering and sorrow, but then the tales of God's Guys and Gals have always been this way. I take comfort in that.

May you breeze through your school of contentment more easily than I with no repeat classes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


I have no time for tears,
but tears have time for me.
No patience for depression
but depression waits for me.
Desolation fights with consolation
hope with fear embattled
How fearsome are the battles,
But Trust and Faith prevail
Doubt and Fear to Faith must yield
And Joy defeat despair.
Is it a wonder I fall to bed
as if from labor taking flight?
For I do little each and every day
but fight this inward fight.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Word From Moses

I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock. his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. Deuteronomy 32: 3-4 (NIV)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Words from Afar

Thanks to my friends who reminded me today that God has not changed. God is a good God, by definition. His character is good. Do we then understand what happens? Should I agonize over the sad and painful things in life, the things that don't make sense? No. I need to cling to the cross. It is my proof of the goodness of God. When all looks false, dim, dull, and dark, the cross is my evidence of things hoped for. It is the evidence of things not seen.

The tradition I grew up in denied the importance of the cross, forbidding the cross displayed in the sanctuary. The empty grave, they said, that is what matters. That is what we focus on. I hope I am not mis-stating their position. They taught the cross, yet it was the empty tomb that they saw as all important. Yes the resurrection is important, but how many times is the cross mentioned? The cross is mentioned several times, and Paul mentioned the preaching of the cross, as he did the resurrection. You don't have one without the other. The preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who don't believe, but it is the power of God to those who believe.

I the resurrection the evidence that the cross was sufficient?

The cross is evidence of the love of Christ. It is evidence of the plan of God to reconcile his children--me--to himself. It is the substance of my hope. I can't grasp the overwhelming wonder and goodness of this news. One of these days, hopefully soon, I want to grasp this enough to not be so thrown by the woundings of others, by circumstances, by tragedies, by fear.

Thank you to my friends for the needed reminder. Although I wouldn't say my faith has been shaken, I have been discouraged by circumstances. I have wondered, despite my trust, if God was going to allow some very bad things to happen, and if I was going to have to somehow assess the unthinkable as good.

I cannot understand this God. He can be known and yet is unknowable. We can understand things, yet not understand all. He is the ultimate mystery. His ways are beyond knowing. Some people with greater faith or minds less inclined to struggle through things do not have the great trials of faith that I have. Ultimately I believe certain things are true, but I have times when I really struggle to try to fit the pieces of who God is, how he has described himself and his ways together. Some of the pieces are incomprehensible to me, but that doesn't stop me from trying to grasp them.

I don't get shaken in the same way anymore, but I go through periods of grief, struggling to deal with or understand trials. Perhaps it is because I simply don't have a real grasp on the truth of the cross and of the resurrection.

Rainy Day

The world sounds wet today
Soggy, foggy, boggy
Dripping, slipping
Sun is somewhere far away

I am somewhere far away
In Maine, in a plane, on a train
Laughing, playing
Words are showing me the way

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

After Home

I did not know when I left
that it was the last
I thought I was saying see you later
not, Goodbye, so long, farewell.
I am broken up. Defenseless
against the onslaught of
wounded dreams
broken hopes.
Like my breath is gone
caught short
a hit from behind
and I'm flat on my face
with my nose in the dirt
figuratively speaking
but numb, out of sorts

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Open Bible Church

Today I punched in the address of another church into my GPS unit, SeanSean, this time on the far side of Baltimore. Down 95, the roadside looks like a forest exploding. Then heading further toward the harbor, the forest is gone, replaced by concrete, bricks and asphalt, the concrete crumbling and the metal girders on the overpasses bubbled and wasting from moisture. The humid summers and the wet, frigid winters are rough on much of the materials of building. The bricks and rock hold up well, but the other materials of modern life buckle, crack, rust and crumble, so that the area I'm driving through looks run-down and neglected. On my GPS unit, the roads in that area are a tangle that I cannot make sense of, this highway, that exit, the beltway, the tunnel roads, a glance at the screen and it appears that I'm driving on a single strand of a cable, whose wires twist and turn and head off in all directions.

Hurtling down the road at 62 miles an hour (the speed limit is 55), traffic passes me in all lanes, the grills of big ominous looking cars bearing down in my rear view mirror before suddenly veering off to go around me. Through the long Harbor Tunnel, whose entrance always takes me by surprise as I expect to see the harbor before entry, and then back into sunlight again. The huge cranes are off to my right, indicating the docks where huge ocean-going ships unload their cargo. I can't see the docks, or the ships that should be docked there, but there is in me a longing for all of that. The industry of it all is appealing, and in a strangely working-class way is romantic. Perhaps it is the size of it all. The shipping containers are huge, the cranes are enormous, the ships are giant, and yet are dwarfed by the sea.

This is an industrial area, but I am through it in a flash, and the flat ground seems even flatter. Green and brown flashes of water, rivers of one name or another, with no visible shore, then a wide reed swamp stretching on both sides of the motorway, and before long SeanSean indicates that it is time to leave and a turn here, a turn there and SeanSean tells me I have reached my destination and it is time to “Sing for Scotland.” I look around trying to find a building that might house the church. I am stumped, but decide to drive around to the back of some of the small buildings. A small sign indicates that I have arrived.

It is a lovely old building, with beautiful wide-plank wood floors and nice moldings. Although it's age shows, it has been maintained well, so it is aging gracefully. The church meets in a small room, that perhaps seats 60 or 70 people at best. Pretty white folding chairs and lovely window treatments that are reminiscent of Ralph Lauren Home.

Upon walking in I am immediately greeted. I turn and Sean is there. He seems like a very nice man, but I can't reconcile my memory of the gawky, nerdy teenager with this nice, confident grown man. I would never have recognized him at all.

I don't think there is more than one or two people in the entire church who do not introduce themselves to me in the course of the morning. There are a few incongruities. On the table in the entry is a computer system where people log in their attendance as they arrive, and there is a nice sound system, and a table of sound equipment, though the church seems to have only about 30 people in attendance.

The pastor is, apparently, a counselor of some kind for his primary profession, as his sermon is laced with statements about counseling people and references to his practice. He is also evangelical about home-schooling and his sermon on Ephesians 6, “children obey your parents in the Lord”, “honor your parents” and “Father's do not exasperate your children” is filled with exhortations to home school, for mothers to be stay-at-home moms, and for the Fathers to be in command at home. He speaks of honoring parents as “extolling their virtues” as well as caring for them financially.

All in all it is a strange and difficult place. Everyone is so friendly, something my heart has longed for, but then the sermon is so rigid and goes over the line as far as scripture goes. Scripture doesn't teach home schooling. It doesn't even command women not to work. But this is not the first pastor to speak as if it does.

Bill Gothard makes these kind of sweeping statements and thus goes from someone to whom I could listen to someone I completely tune out. We have to be very clear when teaching or preaching that we don't make our ideas out to be “thus saith the Lord” kind of statements. I may think it is a good idea to wash the dishes after each meal, but it isn't a “Thus saith the Lord” command, so I shouldn't make it one.

Bringing up a child in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” does not proscribe home schooling or private schooling. I'm not sure I understand where honoring your parents becomes “extolling their virtues”.

But maybe he was talking about his preferences, rather than a scriptural mandate, and I just missed it.

Sean's wife, Jan, rode with me to help me find the Quiznos where we all had lunch. She's a very nice friendly, talkative woman who I like immediately. Sean has four very nice, well-behaved kids who seem to get along. The oldest is heading off to college in a couple of weeks, and the family is both proud and sad. Jan knows another old friend of mine from her college days, so that is another connection.

I'm invited back next week, and I'm torn. The good points: everyone was very friendly, and I enjoyed spending time with Sean and his family. They did preach from scripture, apparently going chapter by chapter, not topically as seems to be the standard for a lot of churches today. The bad points: it's a long drive, and the rabid home-schooling thing. I've got nothing against home-schooling, but it is A way to raise and teach your children, not THE way. I wonder if that is a common theme.

Absolutely overcome by heat while taking the dog out. Is it the heat and humidity or is it hot flashes? I feel and look ill as I wrap an ice filled towel around my neck, trying to get comfortable. Seems to take forever to cool down. Even the dog seems affected. She can't stop panting until given a cold bath.

The damp has my joints aching like crazy. I am forced to take massive doses of ibuprofen to keep moving, which has my stomach on fire. I wonder what the solution is. Lord, please heal me or get me somewhere with a drier climate.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Passing Things

"By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo; the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end... because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was, when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer." Sam to Frodo, "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"

I thought of that quote as we left Colorado. It wasn't a sudden shock to the sytem, more like a thousand little losses, one after the other. First it was leaving my own bed and my own room, that Steve and the boys had hand plastered for me while I was having my sinus surgery. Then it was leaving my bathroom with the tiles we picked out so carefully and each cabinet, finish and fixture we had spent so much time selecting. Through the house, I said my mental goodbyes. I said my goodbyes to Alex (who was in Tennessee at the time) to Kristen, Paul and Timmy, who were away for the night, to my parents, Dad still sleeping, Mom in her robe, to my yellow lab, left behind to keep Mom company, then it was to my yard, each plant selected and placed by me, except for the glorious trees which were there when we bought the place, and some weeds which moved in on their own.

Then we were off and I said goodbye to my street, my neighbors safe in their beds, to my neighborhood, and at each turn it seemed there was a goodbye to be said in my heart. It was a goodbye to the familiar, to the restaurants where I eat with friends, to the stores where I purchase plants for my yard, or buy my favorite white blouses, to a thousand memories all tugging gently at the corners of my mind.

It was goodbye to my mountain, etc., etc. On and on and on it went. It wasn't until we pulled out of Limon that I really felt that we were on our way toward something and not just away. Beyond Limon, even though I've driven the road before, it isn't familiar enough to hold tons of memories.

And then I felt adrift. Not comfortably adrift, just strangely without connection to my surroundings and to my life. I am not comfortable anymore. And more than ever, Tolkein rings true. I have a mixed longing for and abhorrence of adventure. Nasty, wet, smelly things, adventures. A safe and somewhat scary dart out into the unfamiliar while knowing the time frame for hitting the familiar again? FUN. Scary dart into the wide unknown with no plan or timetable for safe return? Far more scary than fun.

As I sit here, gazing at these bare walls, thinking of the art, pictures and mementos left behind, I am wondering what I should make of myself here. And I'm thinking that I never made much of myself before. It's not a whining, self-pitying statement, more a realization of fact. I've lived a small life. I've never lived the life I wanted. I always tried to fit into the place others would have me, and when I dared to try to leave that spot, got slapped down for it. I don't think it was intentional, just what happens if you don't fit the mold. And I've given up far too easily.

How then shall I live? What now shall I do?

Saturday, August 08, 2009

8/8/09 Steve's Birthday

Sitting at MVA...on a Saturday.

Walking in, there was an older woman walking out with a dull-looking teen in a backward-facing ball cap, horizontal striped polo shirt and long, loose denim shorts.

"She can't find it, because she never keeps her papers in order." Her thin wrinkled face wore a grim expression, and her husky voice and Baltimore accent reminds me of my mother-in-law.

We wind up sitting in the second row. Within a couple of minutes the grim woman and the dull-looking teen join a woman sitting in front of us, who appears to be the teen's mother. Apparently Maryland requires multiple evidences of your identity before allowing you the privilege of a drivers license, and the two women are griping back and forth about the papers required and what it will take to meet those requirements and not have to return. Or rather the older woman snips and gripes and the younger one occasionally defends herself or tries to get a word in edgewise.

Their discontent and animosity toward each other is making me ill.

From the lines on the older woman's face, it's obvious that she has spent much of her life unhappy and upset. The younger woman keeps her face turned away from her most of the time, and from their manner toward each other it is clear that this is just a new chapter in an old quarrel.

I can't figure out who these people are to each other. This could be mother-in-law/daughter-in-law or mother/daughter. I don't know which thought makes me sadder. Just having both these women tied to each other in some way is sad enough. It appears that they all live together, as grandma leaves briefly and returns with a copy of her lease to prove the address of the boy.

As I watch them the reason for the boy's expression becomes clear. Remaining disengaged is his way of surviving this constant state of misery. Living in his own world is his way or avoiding his grandmother's wrath and caustic words. It makes me sad to watch what is part of a continuing drama. Even though the players seem accustomed to their parts and their reactions dulled, there is a sad and pained expression on the face of the mother. Her eyes carry a sheen of unshed tears and her face is beginning to set in lines of pain and disappointment.

Watching them I want to reach in with my Jedi mind trick: "You aren't angry at her any more." I whisper toward the old woman, waggling my fingers toward her. "She doesn't bother you," I am at the younger woman. They are not receptive to Jedi mind control.

Then their number is called and they head to the counter, taking their oppressive and depressing mood with them.

Friday, August 07, 2009

New Point of View

The whole trip here to Maryland I had a nagging sense of wrong-ness, that I couldn't put my finger on for quite a while. Then it occurred to me that it was the bit about heading East. "Go West, young man, and grow up with the country." the quote goes. Throughout American history, we struggled to go westward. West from England across the Atlantic, before that West by Northwest, braving Arctic seas from Norway to Greenland and down the Atlantic seaboard, my people came. And while some reached the Atlantic coast and stayed, those compelled to brave the new frontier headed west.

So facing a new adventure, it seems odd to head East. Stranger still to have this adventure land me somewhere that I have already been, but still feels so unfamiliar.

This is the only place I have ever been where I felt lost. Completely lost. I don't know where North is. I don't know where my position is on the planet at any given time. My internal compass is whirling as if placed on top of a strong magnet.

I have no one to go meet for a cup of coffee. No one I can drop in on when I feel the need for a hug or a kind word. My Monday nights are free for football once again, but I do not want them to be free.

So the Israelites longed for Egypt. They forgot, perhaps of making bricks without straw, forgot their cries to God to be released from their bonds of slavery, but instead remembered the familiar. They remembered planting leeks and onions. They remembered where they had gathered their herbs, threshed their grain, gathered with friends for supper, and where they had met to worship their God.

They did not know where they were going. They did not know where they were, just as I have no idea what I am doing here or where I am. They only knew that they followed the cloud.

My illusions of safety are being stripped away. My illusions of comfort in my surroundings are being swept away. I am walking through the desert (metaphorically speaking, of course) and get to drag my friends along only through facebook, email or phone calls, imperfect mediums all.

I have taken my eyes from my Creator for a time and in that time become discontent. I have no cloud visible outside my window telling me that today I stay or today I go, but imagine this...the cloud is ALL you have of God. He speaks, but it is to others who relay His words. Instead, we get to hear from God directly. We have His Spirit living within. I have sometimes envied the Israelites that cloud--that visible reminder of God's presence, never thinking that the cloud was a reminder of God's presence because they could not know Him as you and I can know Him. That indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the communion between God and man is a thing I take for granted and far too lightly, I fear.

I do not know what tomorrow holds. But for today, and this moment, there is a critter or critters in the tree outside my balcony--squirrels perhaps--that are jiggling the leaves and making the branches dance. There is a gentle breeze stirring the top of the pool just across the fence, there is a constant chattering or clicking noise that I think may be insects of some kind, and the forest is barely held back by the encroachments of mankind. The dog is laying peacefully at my feet, and I am once again content. Homesick, but content.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Road Ahead...

Looking forward. Isn't that what we're supposed to do? Looking to those things that are ahead, I press forward, forgetting those things that are behind. I'm not sure that means I actually forget what is behind. I'll have to look into that. More likely I am to press forward. I don't think we forget people and what they mean to us, but we cannot let that be an anchor that keeps us from moving forward. We take them with us in our hearts (and on our facebook pages) as we move into where we are to be next. We look at the goals ahead, don't keep longing for Egypt. It's easier said than done, my friends.

We are all prone to be longing for the leeks and onions of Egypt that seem so secure. We forget the trials sometimes as we look back and remember the past. When the present has it's own pains and difficulties, we are wanting easier times somewhere, even if it is moving backwards. The future is such a scary thing, full of the unknown. When I take my eyes off God, the future is completely frightening. If I forget his loving hands are holding me, I lose heart.

Each day has it's own fears and worries, trials and disappointments. We NEED to keep our eyes on God. We must. I must! I am faint of heart, weak and tired. I must have the courage, strength and refreshment and energy that God provides. I must relax and let him work through me. I cannot do it on my own.

Today was yet another example. I cannot sing. I cannot control my voice or keep it on pitch, control my tone, or even my breath. Pneumonia has stolen this from me. Yet today, as in the past, I was confident that I could sing, confident that God would provide what was needed. And he did. The songs were all so meaningful to me, all about how we can count on God, how he is our source of strength, that we should bless the Lord at all times, good and bad, his name is to be praised, how he saves us and gives us the ability to stand and that we can surrender to his goodness. Oh, how beautiful it was to sing with my beloved worship team, to my Savior and to share that time with my loved ones at CCR. Kelly, Alyssa, Becky, Jim, Donna, Lisa, Kim, Beth, Nicole, Charlotte, Sandra, Bob, Tim, Russ, Bernie, Markus, Denny, Lori, Ron, Anne...oh, and so many others...what a joy it was to worship with you one last time, to lead you into a blessed sharing of worship for the Savior of our Souls...

What an amazing gift God has given me. To be able to do this is a blessing. To know that God stepped in, gave my voice control, gave me breath, gave me tone, gave me notes to sing and the memory to know the words...what a blessing. To do this with pneumonia is a joy I can't tell you. To know how very wobbly my voice is and how the coughing just takes over and to be able to do this. And yet, I could be confident because I have seen God do this in the past. He has enabled me to sing when I couldn't talk. He has held me up through asthma attacks, migraines, pneumonia, bronchitis and who knows what all. He has done it before and I am confident that he can do it again.

So, let me look ahead, remembering the things in the past, but not dwelling on them or longing for them in a way that steals the present away from me. I could not forget my friends and family. I'd be more likely to pull a fiber from the very fabric of my heart. I rest on these friendships. We have encouraged each other toward good works, toward Godliness, toward righteousness, we have held each other up in good and bad times, rejoiced with each other, wept with each other. Those things are not to be forgotten, but God has new people to be in front of me every day. I pray that I will have opportunities to serve and to talk about how great a thing he has done for me, and to encourage people to follow after God, so that they can have their own stories to tell of God's goodness.

I just installed my TomTom. A voice now tells me where the turns are ahead, tells me when I have gone too far and guides me how to get back to where I am supposed to be. I've already had this, in a spiritual way. God has been telling me for years when to turn, when to speak, when to be silent, when I've gone ahead of him and how to turn around and be in his will...His voice is my guide for the road ahead. His the cloud that tells me when to stay and when to go. His the loving guiding hand that holds me up when I am falling.

I do not have to program my destination, he has already determined that for me. I simply need to listen for his voice on the road ahead of me.

Monday, July 20, 2009

If Jesus Was a Jerk

If Jesus was a jerk (like me) we'd be best buds. I mean who doesn't like to sit at the mall and mock people who are walking by? The woman whose clothes fit 20 or 30 pound ago, the one with hair standing 6 inches above her head, the guy trying so desperately to look like a girly man or a manly girl with his manliner and skin-tight skinny jeans, the 50 year old woman dressing like she's Brittany Spears. Who doesn't love a good mocking-others session?

Ummm. Perhaps Jesus wouldn't enjoy it.

If Jesus was a jerk (like me) he would make us all laugh with sarcastic comments.

Ummm. He seemed to have saved his sarcasm for the self-righteous religious leaders.

If Jesus was a jerk (like me) he would be so concerned with how his feelings got hurt when they spit on him, or falsely arrested him, or held an illegal trial, or whipped him, or drove spikes through his hands and feet or the thorns through his scalp that he would have torn them apart with a word, with a flick of his finger or with merely a thought which blew their bodies apart (which he was holding together, by the way) or he would have called the armies of heaven to obliterate them in the most painful way possible.

If Jesus was a jerk (like me) he would be upset when we don't give him the praise that is his due, or thank him for all the things he does, like holding us together and giving us life and breath, as an example. He would want his accolades, his award ceremonies, a gold star on his report card. He certainly wouldn't spend three years! with guys who were so thick they didn't understand who he was and what that meant. He would find people a little quicker to understand his greatness and majesty. If he was like me.

Oh if only I would grasp his infinite greatness and the wonder of his incomparable gift. Perhaps then I would be better able to love people who can't pick the "right" shoes to go with their outfits, or who don't appreciate me, who hurt me with unkind words or deeds. Perhaps I would forgive graciously, perhaps I would serve unselfishly, perhaps I would use kinder words, if only I weren't a jerk like me.

For a Cure

What would we do for the cure
to the ills that haunt us here?
What pain endure, what comforts lose?
What burdens would we bear?
Or would I choose to bear the signs
of sin which brought on our decline?
I often think that pain's a tool
of a malevolent one
Whose hatred for me runs so strong
it would steal joy from my bones.

And when you said you'd lost all hope
I knew exactly what you meant
I knew you'd come to realize that you'd
soon leave your earthly home
I also knew that healing comes
if not on earth, than through the son
Whose resurrection made a way
For healing then if not today.
I held you tight and said the words
That hope was in another world.

But while in this fallen estate,
We face the ills of mankind's fate
The fate was sealed with Adam's fall
For one man's sin has doomed us all
But where one man's guilt has wrought destruction
One sacrifice healed corruption
And made it so we could escape
The bonds and ends of sinner's fate.

For by one man we all were doomed
and by one man salvation comes.
Salvation not just from our sin
But of sin's consequential ills.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Attendance was down

Attendance was down in church today
The sun was out, and I hear the fish were biting
The band played, the singers sang their songs
The preacher preached. But the AC wasn't working.

But if we are his body, where were the people?
Where were the hands and feet? Where were his ears and temples?
In the seats were some new folks, wondering what was wrong here?
Sitting in a row by themselves, they wanted to run during greeting.

I sat and cried throughout the morning.
To know my time here is ending
The ushers and greeters were in place
Though I said goodbye to a lot of people
So many I love just weren't there.
They went away and I lost one more chance to see them.
It breaks my heart to lose a chance to say "I love you."

If we are the body we should be gathered together
For what are feet without ankles, a head without neck to turn it?
Maybe we should cancel services for the month of August
And meet on the side of a river
We'll fish for trout now,
We'll fish for people later
We want to play now
The sun is bright and shining
Souls will wait, for now the fish are biting.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Still my anxious heart. Leaving is beginning to sink in. I feel a panicky feeling that starts with me thinking about leaving all of my friends and my church and starting over with people I don't know. Making new friends, new contacts, finding a new church...


Nothing is certain. It is all illusory that we have any safety, security or longevity at any position. We can all have our course changed at any moment. We don't see ourselves that way, but we really are more like the Israelites wandering in the desert than we would like to believe. Every one of us could have the cloud move off any day, telling us to move on. It can take the form of an injury or disability, loss of work, branch closure, someone deciding to outsource our position, market changes...we do not know. Our only safety, security and longevity is in Christ. He is the ultimate source of our provision, he is the rock in which we are anchored, and it is his hands that hold us fast.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

GOD: become a fan

Saw a Facebook thing -- GOD become a fan. Hmmmm. Fan seems like such an insipid word for the worship that should be inspired by a God who is so unbelievably huge there's not even a word to describe his majesty, his size, his holiness, his glory. Should I become a "fan" in the way some people are fans of Brittany Spears or the Jonas Brothers?

And thus, or so it seems to me, the silly side of Facebook is again revealed. Or is the the silliness of us? We don't know how to put into words what our adoration, what our worship is, so we become a "fan" of God. Trust me, I'm not knocking those who want to stand up and be counted as believers, I'm just struck by the absurdity of us being fans of Almighty God. Why not be a fan of sunshine? or moonlight? or wind? I guess I should check, they probably have their own facebook pages as well..............

Oh dear. I was kidding, but as it turns out you can be a fan of Sunshine. And some of my fb friends are.

Perhaps what really has me thinking is how insipid a thing my worship really is. I am incapable of proper adoration, proper respect, proper worship. My understanding of who God is can be so small. I can only glimpse the smallest portion, like the edge of the hem of his garment. My grasp of even the smallest notion of who God is is a fleeting thing, like trying to hold onto a wisp of smoke or a breath of cloud. As soon as I begin to close the fingers of my understanding it is gone and all I am left with is the notion that I almost grasped it a little bit once.

Truthfully, I cannot call myself a fan, because fan is short for fanatic, as in: "marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion" (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary) First of all, how can one be excessively enthusiastic about the Creator of the Universe and the Savior of our souls? In what way can we be excessive? Does not that God deserve every ounce of enthusiasm and devotion?

What I am, more truthfully, is lacking in suitable devotion and enthusiasm. So I am rather like Peter. Do you love me, Kim? Ah, I like you Lord. Do you love me, Kim? I think you're pretty cool, Lord. Do you like me, Kim?

My devotion is an insipid thing when it should be total. God forgive me.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

One day closer...

Finally starting to feel better. Still coughing up stuff, but for the most part my energy is back. At least for 1/2 days. Hooray. Still trying to figure out what to do about a bunch of things, but I don't need to have it all figured out to be pleased, nor do I need all of my energy to feel like I'm back. I wasn't sure for a few days there if I would ever get better. It's that teenage thing that happens when you just can't see beyond this moment. I think it often recurs when you are really sick.

What did I accomplish today? Other than being able to get out of bed, not much, but even that is an improvement. I did get dressed every single day, something that is really important to me. Depression looks like sitting around in my pajamas from morning to night. Plus, fortunately, I have been able to continue looking for work even while sick. I certainly have gone to work in the past as sick, but typically, a job has enough sick days and a smart enough supervisor to send you home...if not, then you just stay sick longer. Or get worse and worse.

Enough about that. Today I sent invitations to my going away BBQ. Hope that lots of folks come. It's going to be impossible for me to see everyone individually to let them know how much they mean to me otherwise.

Preparing for an Adventure

The Internet is a useful thing. It helps you find fun events from half a country away, plan vacations along the seashore, shows you pictures of things you never knew existed. Still...I gravitate toward pen and paper for my lists. What to take, what to leave behind, what to pack away. What to purchase once I arrive.

Now I am struggling with the goodbyes. How to say good bye to all the wonderful friends I have here. Time is short, but it must be done. Without ceremonies of this sort, I would feel like things were left dangling. There are times when we must grab our coat and walking stick and run out of the house, but fortunately this one will allow me the chance to decide whether to grab my handkerchief and pipe. (Shameless Tolkein references, I know.)

I know I will leave someone out. There are doubtless those who will be offended that I did not call before leaving. May I say in my defense that I have been very ill. That illness is taking far too much time and sapping energy which would be useful for saying my goodbyes.

May I say that Maryland is ever so much closer to Rome. Airfares should be much cheaper, and even though my passport never did turn up when we cleaned out the garage, still, I expect that we may...perhaps...find our way across the Atlantic that little bit easier heading for European adventures. Perhaps Poland for some of that wonderful Polish pottery I love. Or maybe we'll stay stateside and pay mortgage payments and eat crab on the waterfront. Either way, God be praised. He's not done with me. He has already planned work for me to do.

He has given me great friends and through email, Skype, Facebook and free long-distance calling, I expect to be able to keep up with my friends. What happens sometimes, though is that friendship is rather like taking a dip in the ocean. When your head is out of the waves, the water flows around you, but the minute you dip your head beneath the waves, or exit the water, the water fills the spot where you were as if you were never there. Go look at a river. Unless you built a dam, you won't find a sign that you were there before. Such is the way of life.

I hope to find that many of you are true lifelong friends who will have markers in their hearts that I passed this way.

Monday, July 13, 2009

MHC is going adventuring...

Although my heart adventures on Kenyan plains, Italian countrysides, Grecian ocean towns, South American towns in tropical places, or Nepalese villages clinging to the sides of steep snowy mountains, it appears that my next adventure will be to the wilds of Baltimore. In a way very different from here, it has a spot in town called "Little Italy". Culturally it is a galaxy away. I remember being there before and feeling like there were all these social rules that I didn't know, but that were so normal to the people ther that they couldn't even list them or explain them. Few people are capable of explaining the mores of their own culture. They simply ARE. You do things because THAT IS WHAT YOU DO. You don't do certain other things because EVERYONE KNOWS IT'S RUDE. Why it's rude no one has to think about or describe because everyone knows it already. There is a shared vocabulary and a shared set of rules.

When Steve and I got married, we joined those sets of rules and expectations, or rather we clashed them. You don't ask about money, how much things cost, what people make, how they financed their house...why? Because it's rude. Steve came from a culture that always asks. It is not considered rude. He comes from a yelling culture. I come from a never yell culture. He comes from a culture that conforms in dress, I come from a culture that has minimal influence over such things.

It took me years and years to figure some of these things out. Even longer to begin to explain them. Why is my culture so private about money and salary? Because we all negotiate our own pay and benefits and often work in companies where the discussion of salary is forbidden in our contracts. Why his isn't private? Because his culture is a union culture. Everyone knows what everyone makes. It is a public negotiation.

I come from a family that speaks one at a time. Steve's all talk at once. What once seemed terribly rude now seems just different.

And so, Mountain Home Companion is going east. Heading to a culture very different from my own, where there is no privacy because there is no space to be alone. But it is also a place that shows movies in the middle of the city and people sit on lawn chairs in the open air to watch. It is a place where people live their entire lives within a 1-2 mile radius, with an occasional trip to the beach or Atlantic city thrown in. It is a place where people don't know the towns and hamlets 3 or 4 miles up the road, but they know every person on their block. It is a place where most people (it seems) belong to community pools. Summer is so terribly hot and muggy and everywhere is crowded.

This time I'd like to take a trip up the coast in fall and see the fabulous fall colors. I'd like to visit Amish country and visit all the local fairs and outdoor markets. I was so terribly scared when I was there before. Scared and alone and lost. This time I think I'll get a GPS system. If I know what direction I'm heading, I never get lost. The lack of landmarks drove me nuts there before. And this time I'll make sure I get to places where I can see the sky so I don't go stark raving mad.

In a few weeks I'll be watching "Under The Tuscan Sky" in Little Italy. Doesn't that sound like fun?

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Micro-loans and Entrepreneurial Enterprises

I was just looking at KIVA, one of the organizations that allows individuals to make micro-loans ($25/each) to meet the loan request of people all over the world. It impressed me that such small amounts can make such a difference. A group of women request $1800 to purchased more product for their sales business; A man requests $750 for the pesticides and oil/fluids for his farm and farming equipment. This system has quite a good record, and the people requesting are generally from underpriviledged parts of the world.

It made me wonder a couple of things: 1) if I can start lending right away, and 2) how little money would it take for me to begin an enterprise right here in the U.S.A.? I have an idea or two floating around in my head and wonder what it would take to get them going...

What ideas do you have that would take just a bit of funding to start?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Let There Be Song! A short story

Let There Be Song!

In the beginning of it all, the Maester opened his mouth and sang. The note was long and pure and deep and rich. Inside that single note were triads and trills, arpeggios and cadenzas, though if one had been present, one could only have sensed them and not heard them. That single note contained all the promise of every song yet unsung, unwritten, unrehearsed, but it was unexpressed. Solitary and yet somehow perfect in that solitude. The note rang out for ages and epochs of time that had never been created. It went backwards and forwards, ringing the Maester with his own magnificence. But the Maester was not willing to let his song be heard only by his own ears, so he sang a chorus out of which he created beings of superior magnificence. They reflected back the Maesters note and were pleased to have it ring in their ears. These beings were huge and flew with wings covered in ears, but for them the song, even just that single note, became more than they could bear, so they covered their ears that were on their heads with one set of wings. On their wings, they closed their ears up tightly, trying to drown out the song. Seeing that his creatures could not stand all of his magnificent song at once, the Maester split his single note, that one perfect all-encompassing note into three, and then twelve and then hundreds and hundreds of notes—thousands even. Some of them he sang so low that the Winged Ones could not hear them. Some notes he sang so high that their ears could not comprehend it, and of the ones in their hearing, he chose to hold back a part of his magnificence so that they could bear to hear the rest.

He sang a trill and space formed about them and time began. How this happened has never really been clear. I have seen it in visions and dreams, but when I awake, the dreams cannot be uttered in words. They fail me.

The Winged Ones flew about, with their great wings carrying them this way and that, listening to parts of the song wherever they went, so that they could hear much more of the Maesters song as they listened to the song in smaller parts. Their thoughts wove the song into one huge orchestration, yet when they tried to sing back, they had not been given music in their voices. They could chant out how glorious the Maester was and how splendid his song, and they did so for ages and eons and epochs.

But the Maester was interested in hearing his song reflected back and in sharing more that was in his heart than even his song could contain, so he thought. It was a flash, or was it a million years...either was one and the same to the Maester for he stepped in and out of time at his pleasure. In his pleasure he created a universe and it was broad and long, too broad and long for anyone to measure, for it took a near infinite measuring tape, which he created with a single solitary note, somewhere in the mid-range, for I could hear it in my visions and dreams. He rolled out the measuring tape with a flick of his wrist and the near infinite space fit within the span. He wrapped the entire universe with the tape and with a smile, sang out his pleasure. He flicked his wrist and the measuring tape unwrapped from around the majestic space to fit within his palm, then he sang a song whose music became light, and throughout the universe stars suddenly appeared and took on the note with which they were created. Black holes, red giants, white and brown dwarfs, nebulae, galaxies, and stars beyond description. The size of the universe and the stars within it were beyond my comprehension, and he sang them into place. Within the galaxies he placed planets beyond measure, spinning them in their courses with a trill of his voice. They began their merry pathways and their joy was heard in song. The entire universe was both filled with and yet somehow devoid of song. It was quiet and it was filled.

How do I describe it? Perhaps it was that the music wasn't heard by my ears, but was heard in my spirit. I'm not certain how to say it. It was the finest orchestration I had ever heard. Even the silences where somehow musical. The light revealed the darkness, or the darkness ran from the light, I don't know, but the universe was filled with the beauty of the lights the Maester had created. Yet I did not exist. It was beautiful and it was very good, but the Maester was not finished. Each planet was different. In a flash, he showed me them all, though I do not know how. And he showed me the planet which has always been my home, and it was beautiful and perfect and very, very small. I had seen planets one-hundred times the size of mine, and stars that were a hundred-thousand times the size, and yet it was small and large and beautiful beyond what my heart could stand.

“Don't show me any more!” I cried. “I cannot take in any more of your splendor. My ears cannot listen to any more of your song.” And yet, while I could take no more, I knew that I wanted no less than what he would show me, and what my ears could hear. I was both filled and wanting more, greedy in a way I had never been before.

For a moment, the song died away, and for a moment my vision went dark. Then slowly and gently the sound and the vision were restored and I was filled with peace.

The Maester then went planet by planet and told them what to do. Their courses were determined by his song. Some were cold and lonely, and some blazed with fiery heat. Some were gaseous and some were earth and water. On some he sent the water underground to live for all days, and on some he pulled the water to create great clouds around them, each ruled by and singing their own song.

All the colors of the rainbow were given to the planets and each one bore the color he assigned it. Each one absorbed the light of its nearest star or stars, filling themselves with the music of the star and singing its own song back. Each planetary system had it's own chord that it played and each galaxy contained a concerto. I had never heard this music, and with my waking ears I never have heard such a song, but I, even I, was given the honor of this vision.

It was a moment, or was it an epoch, when the Maester finishes his work. On my planet he had sung a special song and there was all kinds of life there. The oceans were parted and the earth was formed, mountains and valleys, rivers and seas ran in their courses. Trees sprang forth, grasses and grains, vines and bushes of all description, flowers in such colors and wondrous patterns they put the galaxies to shame. As I watched, animals appeared, all kinds. I saw animals that have long been extinct and ones that I have heard about but never seen, and some as yet undiscovered by mankind. He sang and the birds flew through the skies and the seas were filled with fish and all manner of creatures, frolicking and swimming about in a fury of joyous activity.

I saw the Winged One he had called the Choir Director whose work was directing the Winged Ones as they called out their chants, “How glorious is the Maester and how splendid is his song!” They shouted in chorus. Part of the chorus would call out, “Glorious!” and the rest would call out, “How glorious is the Maester and how splendid is his song!” They chanted to each other as they flew through the heavens and through the expanse above and inside the universe. And the Choir Director's heart grew dark, and after ages leading the choir to call out the praises of the Maester, the Choir Director looked at my planet, my tiny insignificant planet, saw all the effort and pleasure the Maester poured out upon it and determined to have it for himself. He looked at himself and saw splendor and majesty, saw the wings with which he flew and the ears with which he heard. He saw his beauty and began to praise himself in his heart.

On my planet, the Maester created my ancestors. He took a tiny piece of the ground and mixed it with his song and made the first singer. And he gave him the ability to sing and I saw the Choir Director grow angry and his face darkened and the ears on his wings shriveled and fell off. The Maester created a woman from part of the first singer and brought her to him to help him finish his song. And together they sang a new song, and there was joyous music. The Choir Director left his post in the heavens and called out his discontent to the choir, and many of the Winged Ones were caught by his darkness and followed him. And as they did, I saw the ears on their wings shrivel and fall off as well.

“We are even more beautiful and majestic than before,” he said to them, and they preened about, shaking out their earless wings and finding themselves beautiful, they determined that they were more beautiful now than when they had been formed and thus despised the Maester who had created them with notes from his own mouth.

But the song was not finished.

I looked and the first singers walked about the planet. They found themselves surrounded by beauty. The roses had no thorns, the berry bushes had no thorns. Trees were covered in fine fruit that was good to eat, and vegetables of all description grew in meadows. Gentle streams flowed through the gardens and beside the meadows. When they were tired, they lay down on the soft ground without fear of attack, for the animals were all gentle and ate of the fruits of the trees and of the ground. They had no need of shelter because there were no storms.

The Maester took on an appearance like theirs and came and walked with them and sang in the gardens and meadows beside quiet streams and sat with them next to the water. Their songs were gentle and sweet and reflected back the portion of himself he had shown them. Their voices were so beautiful that I wept. I weep each time I remember.

I looked and the Choir Director hovered in the trees above them, clothing himself in the garb of a strange green-skinned creature that looked like a dragon and a snake and a crocodile, but it stood upright and ate of the leaves closer to the ground and was a beautiful thing.

In all of the universe, the Maester taught them song after song, before he showed them two songs they were not to sing. The reasons were unclear to me. Then he made for them instruments of wind and string and wood. Violins, harps, keyboards and lyre. Then he himself took gold and silver and bronze from the ground and with fire that he began with a note that shivered from the tip of his finger, he heated the metal and formed instruments of wind. He made trumpets and flutes. He formed drums from wood and strips of a strong leaf which I did not know. He dried it over the fire and formed the head. Then he gave them permission to make instruments of every description, every type they could think of and to find joy in music and in the creation of it.

And they did.

And the Maester was pleased by the singers he had made and the world he had made for them. He was pleased with the seas and the land, with the plants and the animals, with the fish that swim in the seas, with the birds of the air and with every creature.

And the Winged Ones shouted for joy at the Maester's delight, all but the ones who had joined the Choir Director. For a long time the first Singer and his wife enjoyed peace and delight in the world the Maester had given them. And he walked with them, sat with them, talked with them and sang with them each day. Each day they told him of one of the creatures he had made and what a delightful discovery they had made. And they were very happy and sang songs of delight throughout the day.

And I saw as the Choir Director took for himself a new name. He called himself Discord and all his followers were happy and took for themselves all matter of new names. By the time I was born, those names he and his followers took for themselves had become familiar to all as descriptions of bad and terrible things, Wrecked became our description for something that had been ruined, crushed or destroyed. Discord became the word we used for people who were at odds with each other, and we had forgotten even the existence of Discord and his followers.

Oh what a deluded people we have become! And I felt foolish and saddened. After that I slept a sleep without any more dreams or visions. When I awoke I was thrilled and troubled by what I had seen. What did it mean? What could it mean? Dawn broke through the clouds and for a moment I imagined I heard the splendor of the sun in song, but it was not to be.

I went on about my normal day, much as I would any other, except I was silent. By noon others were commenting and asking after my health, but I was unable to respond. I was too filled with what I had seen to let it go. My wife, bless her, would have known to leave me alone to my contemplations, but I had buried her more than ten years previous. She was the best wife a man could have, spunky, independent, helpful, and quick-witted. She had an instinctive way with people, knowing when to push and when to back off, when to listen and when to give advice, and she never put up with anyone messing with me. Not that I needed her protection, but we looked out for each other. I was a buffer between her and her lunatic mother when she came to live with us at the end of her life. I protected her from prying questions when we had all those miscarriages and stillbirths. I answered for her, the rude and insensitive comments of others when we suffered those and other losses. Oh today, I miss her again so much. She, of all people, would not have required an explanation to give me the peace and solitude I crave. And I would have taken her into my confidence and told her what I had seen. She would have believed me even if other's would think me mad.

I no longer have to attend to my occupation, as younger hands hold the tools and follow my designs to provide the goods I always crafted with my own hands. These hands can do little these days besides hold a pen and draw the plans, sign bank writs for the worker's pay, and write letters. Some days I even have trouble fastening my buttons. Such is the indignity of old age.

I always enjoyed my work, but since I no longer have to put in the long hours shaping the wood to my design, I have taken to solitary walks through the hills that surround my town, stopping to chat with the baker, the cobbler, the mercantile manager, the butcher and the grocer when I came upon them. I have known them and their fathers before them in their time. Today, I eschewed conversation, with a smile and a polite wave that engendered their concern and them calling after my health. Since the death of my Camille, the entire town seems to have taken it upon themselves to look after my well-being.

Ah, well, I suppose it is a strange thing to them that I have lived so long. Many of my friends and neighbors seem old when they are half my age. For on the morrow, I shall be 100. It is a fine old age that I certainly never thought I would see. Our son, Frederich, didn't live to be 40, but such is the mystery of life. I grow ancient while other's die so very young.

The hills called to me, so with a purpose I climbed high above the town, seeking not just solitude, but a place where I could rightly examine my visions and dreams. I was panting from the effort when I found just the spot I was looking for. A large flat boulder sat in a clearing with a single oak tree at its edge. The tree provided shade from the blazing sun, and the grass was cool and inviting. Leaning up against the boulder, I opened my pack and pulled out my usual mid-day repast of an apple, some fine aged cheese from the dairyman, the heel of a loaf of some crusty bread and a flagon of red wine. Upon taking the last bite of my meal, I proceeded to pull pen and paper from my pack and to put my visions and dreams on paper. Words came in a torrent and I wrote until my hand would no longer grasp the pen. The sun was low and the shadows cast grew long. Temperatures cooled and I shivered a bit in the breeze. The earth itself released a rich odor of life and time and growth and decay. The grass seemed greener, the sky bluer, the rock against which I rested my back seemed sturdier and more...well, rock-like than before. I saw the grass before me, not as a mass of green, but I seemed to see each blade as if independent of the others. The ground beside me separated into separate grains of earth and the sky above hurt my eyes with it's intensity. I closed my eyes and my ears heard the waving of the grass in the breeze, a small but discernible sound, as each blade rubbed against another.

It was intense and over-powering and I was suddenly exhausted and I lay down for a moment, to rest before making my way back down the hill. I clasped my cloak around me and using my arm as a pillow, I fell into a deep sleep.

Discord walked through the valley, clothed in animal flesh, his green and blue scales glistening in the afternoon sun. He heard the first singers laughter as they walked among the trees and bushes. He reached up and plucked a peach from the tree and fed her a juicy bite. They ate and walked in companionship, talking and singing to each other. He reveled in her beauty and she in the strength of his body and of hers. They had names, given to them by the Maester, he was called Capo, for he was the first singer, and hers was Encore, because she was the special completion of his work, the grandeur that would leave one wanting more of her. Discord grew angry and his scales changed color. As they burst into song, his anger reached its peak and he determined in his heart that they would be his and not the Maester's. He would destroy the thing that brought the Maester so much pleasure, and take for himself the music that he should have been given.

He watched as the singers went to seek out different things in the valley. Capa climbed the hills, while Encore sat beside the stream, dangling her hand in the water. She sang a sweet song, that mimicked the sound of the water's rippling sound.

Discord approached. Encore felt no fear or apprehension, for there had never been a need in the world
she inhabited. All the beasts she had encountered were without harm, all the plants were beneficial and pleasing to the eye, and the only danger they had encountered had been as they climbed the rocky cliffs looking over the valley that was their home. But their feet were nimble and swift and their balance superb, so they had not known danger nor fear.

Encore looked at Discord with wonder as he approached. His beauty was beyond compare. The green and blue scales were glistening and his form was pleasing to her. “What are you called?” she asked, though she was merely thinking aloud. Animals in that day, as in this, had no speech. She was amazed when he answered, “I come to bring you great news.”

Her eyes grew wide with wonder, “You speak! How is this?” He smiled a reptilian smile that managed to be reassuring and kindly, “Do not worry about that. I have come to bring you truth.”

“Please tell me.” she begged.

She had never seen sly nor evil in her existence, and did not recognize the gleam that came to Discord's eye. “I have come to tell you about the music you sing...and that which you do NOT sing.”

“There is no music we may not sing, save but two songs. Those the Maester has forbidden to us.” She pulled a small lyre from beside her and began to strum as she hummed. He reached for the instrument and without hesitation she gave it to him. He strummed the notes to the first song the Maester had said they may not sing. It sounded so sweet and pure and lovely that her heart broke with sorrow that she would never sing it.

“You like this song,” the reptile said to Encore.

“Oh I do, but I am not to sing it. He has said so.”

“But do you not know why he has forbidden this song?”

“I do not know, only that I may not sing it. I should not even be listening to it lest I die.”

“This song will not kill you, it will enrich your life beyond measure. This song will open to you the music of the stars and of the planets, of the trees and the grasses, of field and forest. You will understand how to make the music that creates the stars.”

Encore's eyes grew wide as she listened to Discord's words. “But the Maester is the only one who can create the stars!”

“Is that what he told you?”

“He told me this, yes. I should not even be listening to this song. I may die even from hearing it!” At that pronouncement, she stared at her hands, as if to see if they were dying in front of her. Seeing that they were not, she listened to the song he strummed on the lyre. With a tear in her eye for the beauty of the song, and with a desire to create even one of the stars she saw in the heaven's at night and to know what the Maester knew about song and music, she began to sing. Her sweet song rose to the heights above the valley, where Capo heard and in horror rushed back down the mountain to her side.

“What are you doing?” he cried. He saw on her face that she had changed with the song, and he determined to keep her, so he joined her in song.

Hearing them singing the song that would put a tear in music forever, the Maester wept.

Capo and Encore ceased their song, looked at Discord and saw the evil in what they had done. They could no longer hear the music of the river, nor could they sing. The music in their heads and in their hearts was somehow flattened and filled with sour notes that brought them pain. They were utterly miserable and curled up together under a nearby bush. Discord, still wrapped in the creature's body, sauntered over to a nearby tree and climbed in to the uppermost branches, and in his glee, he waited to see what the Maester would do with his ruined creation.

He did not wait long. Capo and Encore lay huddled together beneath a raspberry bush when the Maester arrived for a song. “Where are you?” he called out, though he knew.

From beneath the bush they called to him, “We cannot come out, for we cannot hear the song.”

“Did you sing the forbidden music?” he called.

“I didn't want to sing it, for I knew what you said, but I could not let her sing alone!” Capo called.

“I was tricked by the lizard,” Encore called out. They crawled out and knelt before the Maester, shamed and miserable.

The Maester looked at their miserable tear-stained faces and his heart broke even more. “What you have done is worse than you realize. You have broken the music, and have brought death into this world which knew none. And now, to save you from yourselves, and from the remaining song that would keep you trapped here in your misery forever, you are banished from this valley. You will spend your days seeking music always, but as you do so, you will have to plant and harvest so that you may eat. Your days of leisure are at an end. You will experience pain, and fear, sorrow and disappointment. For you have sung that song and once it is sung, it cannot be unsung.”