Invited

Originally posted on Dena Netherton: My Father's World, My Father's Words:

My Christmas memories center around parties spent at my grandparents’ house.

Family Christmas 2010 040

My grandmother put out a spread fit for a king. Before the meal, family members mingled while sampling her wonderful canapés, chips and dip, hot and cold drinks.

Someone always had a piece or two to play on the grand piano.

The white tablecloth and starched white cloth napkins set off the fine china, crystal and silver at her long dining table. Fresh flowers from Grandmommy’s garden ornamented the center of the table.

Grandmommy’s buffet always included a simple salad, followed by the main meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, wild rice, green bean casserole, and rolls. Chocolate eclairs with a dollop of whipped cream topped off the feast. After the meal, Grandmommy served the coffee and tea in gleaming silver pots.

My grandmother was a wonderful hostess, and we always felt like royalty.

As a child…

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Not My Property

We used to live in a lovely home in Southern California with a heated pool and gorgeous views of the hills. Along the back fence, green grape vines coiled. Jasmine scented the air in the evening. An orange tree produced some of the sweetest oranges you’ve ever tasted. Beyond the patio and pool, on a steep slope, grew lemon trees, apple trees, and two young peach trees.

Each day I dutifully went out to tend this lovely, productive garden.

I planted strawberry plants in one bed and sprinkled slug pellets to keep the nasties away from my succulent berries. I pruned the bougainvillia so its sharp spikes didn’t spear us as we passed through the gate to the front yard.

Oh, how I loved my garden.

Then Bruce made a job change and we sold that home and moved to Colorado.

A couple of years later, when we visited Southern California, I decided to see how the  old “homestead” was doing. What I saw shocked and disappointed me.

The new owners had removed all the fruit trees and planted the ubiquitous —and boring—palm trees. They’d even removed my precious grape vines. And, in place of the lovely shade tree in the front yard (did I mention how hot it gets in Southern California in the summer?) they’d planted another palm tree.

My son turned to me and said, “Just remember, it’s their house now.”

Good point. The house belonged to someone else and they can do with it as they see fit.

A good point to remember, also, when I’m tempted to complain to the Lord about my own life, my inferior body, the direction I wish He’d allow me to go, but doesn’t…yet.

I have to remember that I surrendered control of my life long ago. I placed my faith in Jesus Christ and handed over ownership to Him. Now He’s the owner of me.

He can do with me as He sees fit. I’m the house He dwells in and He’s the Lord of this—ahem—”castle.”

I can trust him to take care of His property…and do it with sovereign excellence!

“You are not your own. You were bought at a price.” (1st Cor. 6:19,20 NIV Bible)

Fairy Tale Hero

My mother used to read to us from such collections as Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Mother Goose, Aesop’s Fables, and a host of other, much beloved stories.

In each tale was a germ of truth, and a clear delineation between good and bad:

Tell the truth (Pinnochio)

Don’t make deals with a wolf (The Three Little Pigs)

Slow and steady wins the race (The Tortoise and the Hare)

Work hard and in time you’ll reap the benefits (The Little Red Hen)

But my favorite fairy tale of all was The Sleeping Beauty. Evil Maleficent hates the lovely princess, Aurora, and wants her dead. But I think the real story here is about the partnership of the prince with the three fairy godmothers and the good creatures of the forest.

Maleficent holds the noble prince captive in her dark and hellish castle. But, aided by the powers of good, the prince escapes and rides away to rescue his beloved princess, lying in a deathlike state in the king’s castle.

The powers of darkness unleash their fury on the prince. Thorny, impenetrable trees block his path. Maleficent, herself, transforms into a mighty dragon, spewing fire. But nothing can stop the prince. Love impels him to fight evil, risk his own life to reach Aurora and bring her back to life with his ardent kiss.

Even as a little girl, my feminine heart thrilled at the thought that someday my own “prince” would be willing to risk all to reach me and rescue me from any danger.

Unlike many stories that have come out in the last twenty years, this old story has a definite good and definite evil. The prince is all good. Maleficent is all bad.

God’s Word speaks about Jesus—the Prince of Peace— in the same way: “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.” (1st John 1:5)

Jesus is the ultimate Prince, the Man who has surrendered His life to death on a cross, defeated death and Satan, and longs for the day He can come to His Bride and take her home to be with him forever.

Jesus is not a complicated hero in a modern story, with emotional issues and idiosyncrasies, who sometimes does the right thing, but often fails, too. Jesus is all good. Completely trustworthy and honest. The ultimate hero in any story.

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col. 1:13)

To Bleed Or Not To Bleed

I stepped through the doors of the blood center yesterday, feeling nervous.

Not because I’m afraid of needles. I’m not.

But because I’ve tried this before without too much success.

I’m what they call the universal donor: type O negative. So I felt it my duty to help out by donating my valuable blood.

I secretly refer to myself as the “untapped vein” (pun intended).

Even when they take little bits of blood from me, as in a lab test, I’m stingy. Last time I attempted to donate, they could only get half a pint from my arm. That’s why I’m nervous.

One doc told me I have teeny, tiny veins.

Anyway, the grateful phlebotomists at the blood center hooked me up and watched a pretty good stream of precious O negative blood flow down the tube. Then, it happened…again.

The vein stopped flowing. For fifteen tense minutes, two nervous phlebotomists positioned and re-positioned the big needle in my arm. I dutifully squeezed the ball in my hand. They murmured something about possibly hitting a “valve” in my vein that kept opening and shutting.

Finally, with just seconds to spare, they got their pint. We all breathed a sigh of relief.

I hate that about my body. Teeny, tiny veins. I just want to help, but my body betrays me.

I remember what Jesus said to His disciples as they waited with Him the night before His crucifixion. “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

Yep, that’s me. A weakling. In so many, many ways.

Good thing God already knows that. He knows my spirit is willing. And that there are so many things I would like to do for Him to show my love, my gratefulness for all He’s done for me.

In another month or two I’ll try to donate again. Maybe there’s a trick to this I haven’t yet discovered, like running a mile before I arrive at the blood center, or drinking a gallon of water.

And if those things don’t work, I’ll stick with donating canned goods.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…” (Col. 3:23 NIV Bible)

Wanna Be impressive?

“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”(1st John 3:18)

When I first met my future husband, he swept me off my feet.

Not literally.

He did something so rare that I couldn’t get him off my mind.

Wanna know what that was?

He listened.

Yep, I know this seems awfully simple.

But listening is so rare nowadays.

When I arrived at the University of Michigan as a graduate student, I didn’t know a soul. My first couple of days there had been filled with problems with my coop room, registering for some classes, getting lost, feeling lonely, and recovering from a bad cold.

When Bruce and I first met, he didn’t launch into the usual, “here’s all the impressive stuff you need to know about me” routine.

No. Instead, he fixed me a pot of tea, asked me what I was studying, what did I get for Christmas, what kind of family did I grow up in, what was my philosophy of life.

His kindness and sincere interest in me as a person—not a potential girlfriend— impressed me.

Bruce didn’t try to wow me with his looks, his athletic ability or strength, or his smarts, or his knowledge.

There’s an old saying: “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”Sept 10 Fall River Road 077

This saying is kind of like the wonderful verse in 1st John (3:16): “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”

Listening is a truly impressive way of showing God’s love. It’s an active thing, a serving thing.

The most lovely and unselfish people I know are also great listeners. They all seem to recognize that they’re in this world not to impress others with their talk, but to be representatives of Jesus Christ on earth.

And who listened better to others than Him?

Wanna be truly impressive?

Listen.

Coyote, Kill My Bunnies!

Bruce and I spied a coyote in broad daylight, loping along a busy section of road in our neighborhood.

A big, fluffy, healthy-looking predator.

My first thought was: Man, are you out of place. We shouldn’t be seeing you during the day. Here, in busy suburbia.

Then I thought: Wait a minute, this coyote is as much a part of suburban Colorado as bunnies, ducks, and squirrels. Most likely, he’d been attracted into the neighborhood by the sight or scent of a cat or small dog.

Though we seldom see coyotes around here during the day, we’re aware of their presence. Their nighttime howling choruses. The circling of buzzards over an abandoned coyote kill. Bits of bunny fluff wafting across the nature trail behind our house.

As writers, we have our own “coyotes.” You know, the writerly craft that kills our unnecessary scenes, redundancies, awkward sentences, illogical character motivations. My “coyotes” hunt in the dark, and bury the evidence of literary devices that might be obtrusive. Noticed by readers.

The coyotes are always there. Just not seen.

And that’s the way they should be. Chasing down their prey. Cleaning up the neighborhood so it looks—to the casual observer (reader)— neat and orderly.

If something’s not in the right place—a bunny on the tree, a duck eating sushi on the front porch, a squirrel sunbathing in the middle of the street— the traveler through our literary neighborhood notices…and loses a little respect for what he observes.

We hope that the reader doesn’t actually see the “kill.”

We hope that he or she simply enjoys the uncluttered story path.

Oh, how we’d love to be wildly creative without having to think about such things as plot, characterization, story arc, motivation. But, for the sake of the readers, we employ our coyotes.

Because one bunny on the trail makes sense, but twenty bunnies just seems far-fetched.

Howl, howl, howl away, coyotes!

7 Ways to Build Your “Tool Chest”

I once had a professor in an ethics class who liked to talk about his “tool chest.”

What? He sure didn’t look like the handyman type.

But my prof was talking about another type of “tool chest.” The kind that has to do with your social, educational, and professional skills that make you versatile and valuable in an ever-changing business world.

Whether you’re a writer, or teacher, or accountant, or whatever, experts suggest the following activities, guaranteed to build your professional or personal “tool chest.”

  1. Take a class: For example, if you’re a business person, take business English. If you’re terrified of public speaking, join Toastmasters.
  2. Network with others: You have lots to offer. And you have lots to gain from the company and expertise of others.
  3. Read a book: Stretch your knowledge by reading outside your usual interests. If you like romance, read a biography. If you like physical adventure, read a book on European royal families.
  4. Travel: Read up before you go. Take a tour. Take photos. Meet the locals. Buy a book about the history of the location you’re visiting.
  5. Teach: Nothing solidifies a subject in your own mind by having to prepare a lesson for others.
  6. Volunteer: Help young kids with their reading, serve in a soup kitchen, help build a house, adopt-a-grandparent.
  7. Be available to God: If you’re listening, He’ll speak to you. Ask Him to give you a heart of compassion for others. Why not practice hospitality? Show interest in other people. Really listen. Everybody had something to teach you.

I hope these 7 suggestions help you build your tool chest.

“Instruct a wise man, and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.” (Prod. 9:9 NIV Bible)

 

Seeking the Creator in nature and the arts

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