Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Cry In The Night

When I was seven I shared a bedroom with my sister on the second floor facing the street in front of our house. North Fourth was a busy thoroughfare, with cars continually driving by at a higher speed than the posted 25 mph. It wasn't the busiest street, but busy enough to discourage any idea of casual crossing. Anyone under 10 really needed a tall adult to help them navigate across, since cars often parked on the side both ways, blocking the view of children on the corners attempting to look both ways before they crossed. It was extremely intimidating, the kids on the other side of the road were familiar--we always waved and sometimes shouted greetings at each other between the rush of traffic--but it might as well have been the Grand Canyon separating us.

Only at late night was there quiet in our neighborhood. The light of the street lamps filtering through the huge maples that lined our avenue softly shined through our bedroom window. I liked the window open in the summer, so that the breeze would cool the stifling midwestern stuffiness inside our room. I loved the quiet, with only the occasional dog barking in the distance or the slow car making its way home.

One night, I awoke one evening to hear some man crying "Help me!" in the middle of the street. It was more of a slow wail, I thought that I might have been hearing a ghost. I could hear the sound of his shoes as he slowly walked, one foot dragging behind the other. I went to the window, trying to see who was there but I couldn't see anything, the leaves of the maples were too dense to see through. I didn't know what to do--it could be dangerous and I was only seven. I then heard the voices of my parents softly speaking in the bedroom below me, and I wondered if they were hearing what I was also hearing and discussing it. I then became afraid that they would be angry that I was out of bed, and promptly hopped back in. By that time, the strange voice had grown more distant until it faded away. I wondered why my parents didn't open the door to help the poor guy. I fell asleep, worrying about him, hoping he was okay and wishing I was old enough to help people. I would never allow anyone to suffer around me. No lonely voices in the night would be ignored by me.

My parents didn't know what I was talking about when I brought it up at breakfast the next morning--a Saturday morning, bright and cheerful, and with a promise of a very warm and active day. I saw their furtive sidelong glances towards each other, my parents spoke volumes with eye contact with each other only. I was only seven and I knew that they knew and didn't want to talk about it. I was only seven, too young to know how my parents interpreted wailing in the street in the middle of the night.

I wouldn't let it rest, though. I am still that way--relentless. Finally, Dad told me to shut the window if I heard something strange again in the middle of the night. I was confused, but it was the first of many steps I learned in the lessons of self-protection. People are not what they seem, don't always trust them. Children do not get involved in helping adults. Children trust their parent's judgement. And as my father always warned all the years I grew up, there are tigers out in the world looking for a meal, watch out. Don't be the main course.

My Dad would have never told me that all people are basically good. He also would have never told me that it was my responsibility to make everyone happy and to alleviate human suffering. Or that helping people without thinking twice first was a wise thing to do. If you could sum up all what Dad teach me about survival in the world, it was that trust was to be earned and that your life is too precious to waste for someone else to take advantage or hurt you. He also made sure that as a girl, that I learned how to argue, stand my ground and be as strong as I possibly could be. He respected women who were kind, but also forces to be reckoned with. He would not tolerate weakness in me in any way. He told me a thousand times if not ten thousand times what to do if a man tried to hurt me. He especially instilled in me that I had a responsibility for myself to not end up a victim. Hawaiian women were all raised like this, it is a cultural value.

To be a woman who could summon up enough wrath to warrant fear in the hearts of all around her was a woman of great worth as long as the anger was a justifiable anger that sought to protect what was right and whoever was weak. Like, a lioness protecting her cubs.

I've long tried to reconsile this kind of virtue with the virtuous women of the Bible. It's hard at times. But most often, it is easy. My future blogs will be a series of reflections on biblical women.

Cats and Dogs

Carly, our kitten, and Ginger, our puppy, play continueously. It's tag sometimes. One minute Ginger is "it" and chases Carly. The next minute, Carly is "it" and chases Ginger. They wrestle. As they play at biting and attacking each other, they are careful to not really bite or really scratch. No blood has been spilled. But at times it looks like the real thing, when Carly growls and hisses and Ginger yelps--I guess to add to the drama of the entertainment. When they are done, they lie there panting and tired, happy at completing round 143 of Ginger versus Carly, lightweight championship of the LeBlanc home.

They don't always play fight. Sometimes, they've united together for mischief against their masters. Carly has climbed up the pantry shelves in the laundry room and knocked down her treats to the floor, and shares them with her buddy, Ginger. Or Carly will open doors--a skill that Ginger doesn't yet possess--to gain access to territories forbidden to the LeBlanc pets. Ginger has the weight advantage useful to knock over the trash cans to make them accessible to Carly, her cohort in crime.

We've don't have just pets. We've got pirates aboard.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Offensive Way

It was an email I got today that uncovered an area of unteachability. It just hit a nerve. That's not a bad thing. The darkness peeled away, leaving my sin shivering and exposed in the Light. It doesn't feel good. It's not supposed to. But I needed this. There is Someone who is aware of how much I needed this, even though it is a struggle, and only He knows how pride has been affecting me and others in my life, as well as my relationship with Him. I'm glad that He has chosen this moment to show me a little. If He showed me everything all at once, it would probably incapacitate me.

The trouble is that I wonder how much others had noticed this pride in me before I did--I cringe. More pride hurt about being found out that I am proud. The Emperor is naked. My blindspot is not obvious to me, but perhaps it has been to others.

God is gracious, and He is generous with it. That's good because I really need it. Will it prevent me from being proud again? Probably not. But it makes me hate it.

"He will again have compassion on us, He will tread our iniquities underfoot. Yes, Thou wilt cast all their sins to the depths of the sea." Micah 7:19

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer." Psalm 19:14

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Psalm 139:23-24

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Temptation can be like a fog--it's hard to see what's out there. I've been on the road, just driving along some mornings on the way to work at 4:30am and hit a fog bank. It's white knuckles on the steering wheel time. For safety's sake, I have to slow down, and commit all my senses to making my way, looking for clues. I sometimes roll down the window to hear better, sometimes beep my horn as I go through the intersection. Pity the fool that keeps driving on like nothing is wrong with the visibility.

Today, I have been dealing with a temptation to believe that I can be independent of God. It crept up on me as I was washing the dishes and stuck on me as I went through the day. I prayed, wondering why God seemed so distant, remembering when I enjoyed rich fellowship with Him, through the blood of Christ. Tonight, our pastor, Kevin, challenged us to love God's Word like in Psalm 119--to delight in it, desire it and be dedicated to it. And tonight, as we heard Psalm 119, it was easier to see what was going on--like a fog finally broke up in my spirit and the light shined in. I needed to remember Philippians 4:19 "And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus."

So how does a young man, woman or anyone for that matter, keep their way pure? I've memorized that verse 25 years ago, and I do have a few experiences in seeing how God has used it in my life. It is a good time to be reminded of them.

Purity, as I understand it, is a state of being unmixed with another substance. It is 100 percent of one thing. And that one thing, for a Christian, is Jesus. How do we keep our way 100 percent of Jesus? By keeping it according to God's Word.

When we think of purity, we think of things we should not do. But God says it involves something else. His Word will purify us--kept in our hearts, so that we may not sin against Him. We look at everything differently--through the lens of God's Word that we have meditated and memorized. We are not left to our own devices. The Holy Spirit guides us through those verses in our hearts.

I've been thinking about Mother Teresa, and the news that she experienced spiritual doubt. What I am impressed with is that she didn't stay silent about it, she reached out to close friends, asked for prayer and stayed on track with obeying God. She allowed others to help her.

When I go to church, I'm specifically allowing for the possibility for God to use others to help me, and allowing God to use me in helping others. It can happen, and it's okay if it doesn't, we're open and available because we can't do it alone, and the fog can be a lonely place to be.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Friday Storms in Lansing

These are pictures from the Lansing State Journal of my neighborhood. No one got hurt nor did anyone's house get a tree on top of it, as far as I saw as I drove around, trying to find a passable way out to work. We had no trees come down in our yard, and we've got big ones. Just some small branches. Dennis and I talked about it later, the fact that the roots on our pines seem to be deep, but we don't know how deep. Will they make it through another storm if it is as strong as the one that hit today? Or stronger? The previous owners made sure that the branches on all the properties tall pines were trimmed--we've never had a problem, yet, with branches or trees coming down on top of our house. But the trees in our neighbors' yards could cause some problems for us as well as for themselves.
As for me, I could have been out driving to work when the storm hit, but wisely decided to stay home until it was over. I called my partners to let them know of my decision and the fact that tornado sirens were going off. Then the electricity went off, never a good sign, and I couldn't find a flashlight with fresh batteries. But by the light of my cell phone, I made it to the basement. I put Ginger in her kennel because I didn't know how she would react. Buttercup would lay quietly right beside me, but Ginger doesn't like to be still as that quite yet. I felt it was the safest place for her because I knew I wouldn't be able to hold on to her. The cat got under the couch and wouldn't come out, so I left her there.
It ended as quickly as it started. Ginger, Carly and I reunited briefly. I called Dennis at work at least five times before the storm and during it and I called him again as I got in the car and headed out, telling him where all the blocked roads were when it was time for him to come home. By the time I got to work, I heard from another co-worker and my manager who wanted to know how I was doing and not to take Jolly road, since a tornado touched down there and the damage was all over there. An hour later, I learned that the roof blew off Fazoli's, 2 blocks from my house.
I sent people home early, and got myself out early as well after we closed. I took Jolly road, things didn't seem that bad. Saw Fazoli's, and their roof looked okay. The neighborhood looked too spooky as I turned into our street. Dennis was home, lighting candles and loading fresh batteries into the flashlights. We listened to the radio for a few minutes before bedtime. Our electricity came on after a few hours, so I had to get up around 2am and turn things off. Including the computer. I had to tell you all about it, play by play.
And I'm deeply thankful about deep roots, de-branched trees and weather warnings to help us make prudent decisions.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Crazy Carly

My kitten, Carly, broke the computer last night while we were sleeping. She likes to climb around the modem on the desk, stepping on the "standby" button. I reset it last night before we retired. Dennis tried to get online this morning, and it wasn't working and resetting the button wasn't doing it anymore. I checked it out, with Carly looking over my shoulder, unapologetically. She coolly watched me look over the wires and connections, and then reboot everything from monitor to hard drive, then disconnect and re-connect all plug-ins to the modem. I fixed it and then repositioned everything so that she couldn't pull anything out or push anything in. She tested it out by taking a walk around the computer right after, and everything stayed intact. I've been busy dog and cat-proofing the house for days.

They like to chew.

I knew that puppies need to chew, but I didn't expect that Carly had to. I think she just joins in with Ginger. Ginger takes one shoe, Carly takes the other. I can't leave them alone for a minute.

The daily schedule is the same everyday for them: take a walk, eat breakfast, chase each other, chew something, play fetch, chase each other, naptime, take a walk, chase each other, chew something, play fetch, naptime...

My schedule is: walk the dog, pull a muscle in my back while preventing cat from following us out the door, feed the animals--dog dish on the floor, cat dish on top of clothes washer to make sure her food doesn't get stolen--make sure animals don't knock things down while chasing each other, pick up what they knock over while trying not to hurt my back too much more, take shoes away from animals and replace them with the chew toys they can chew on while back is breaking, throw ball, throw ball, throw ball...collapse while they doctor about back strain...

Good thing they are soo cute...

Pictures will be posted as soon as my back heals.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Lovely and Amazing

My blogging has been slowing down of late because we have a new puppy. She's 10 weeks old and a beautiful golden retriever, totally blonde. Her name is Gingersnap, but we just call her Ginger. She and Carmelita, our kitten, are pals, playing all the time.

Dennis and I have put off getting another dog for almost a year. We kept thinking of all the work, housebreaking, obedience, chewing, etc... but Ginger has been already housebroken, already comes to her name and sits. After only two and a half days. So smart and responsive. She follows me around the house, and Carmelita (Carly for short) follows her. It's like a parade everytime I go up and down the stairs. Outside, Ginger doesn't need a leash. She would prefer the pleasure of our company above all else. We didn't know this when we got her. It was kinda like a leap of faith.

It may seem like a weird thing to do, but we prayed about this pet thing. We asked for a dog that would like our cat, be calm and even tempered and not become an idol to us. On the way to visit the litter, I told Dennis that I didn't want to get the first dog we see. But in the back of my mind, I was fearful of giving up my freedom. Ginger was the first dog we saw. We played with her for half an hour. I was impressed by the gentle teenager, Mike, who raised her and her littermates--his dad was at work, so he met us at their home and answered all our moronic questions with kindness and patience. Seeing him firmly and wisely deal with the dogs told me everything I needed to know. I decided that was it. It was okay. I will probably be the one housebreaking her, training her and walking her, but I'm all right with that.

And now, I have no regrets at all. If Carly could talk, I'm sure she would agree.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

God's Happiness

A friend lent me her copy of "The Pleasures of God" by John Piper which I've been enjoying for the last week. (I also enjoy seeing her notes in Japanese in the margins-- even though I can't read it, I love it. I learn a lot about people by borrowing their books.) I have finished Chapter One a few minutes ago, about God's pleasure in His Son. I'm looking forward to reading the rest.

I also enjoy Piper's use of the word "happy" to describe "blessed". Happiness seems to be a bad word in Christian circles these days. Probably because we are used to hearing it used in all the wrong ways. Piper looks at it in all the right ways. Here's one from page 26:

"A great part of God's glory is his happiness. It was inconceivable
to the apostle Paul that God could be denied infinite joy and still be
all-glorious. To be infinitely glorious was to be infinitely happy."

Sunday, August 12, 2007

"I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots, his young shoots will grow. His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon. Men will dwell again in his shade. He will flourish like the grain. He will blossom like a vine,
and his fame will be like the wine from Lebanon."

Hosea 14:4-6

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Sweet Stuff

This week, Nikki from work had a stray kitten that needed a home. Dennis and I agreed to take her without seeing her. Not an easy decision. We had a cat before and she was a little crazy. Dennis was afraid she would scratch our dog's eyes out. So, when the time came to move to Georgia, we took our dog but left Misty the cat behind with only a momentary pang of regret. She was as nutty as...well, you get the picture.

I was hoping that not all cats are alike. Our former cat, although she was aggressive towards strangers, was deeply attached to us. I missed the bonding with her but not her attacking our friends. I trusted Nikki's word and expertise with animals that her stray had a sweet disposition. Nikki grooms pets as a side business and has two grown cats and a Golden Retriever living with her in her one bedroom apartment. Nikki said that the kitten loved to be with the dog but hated the other cats. This sounded good to me, since Dennis and I want to get a puppy soon and have been concerned about having the same problem before with Buttercup and Misty.

When I went to Nikki's to pick the kitten up, I didn't expect to see such a beauty. The little beast is four months old with a regal bearing. Her silky smooth coat is black with tortoise shell coloring with tan and gold, and a patch of caramel on her chest; her eyes are golden. I fell in love with her and took her on the longest car trip of her life to our home.

When I put the carrier down on the floor of our family room, the kitten eagerly got herself out without me helping. She took a look around and followed me as I showed her her litterbox and food dishes. She followed me to the couch and laid next to me in a deep contented purr. She claimed me and the entire environment as her own.

I tested how she would react to strangers when Dennis came home. We were in the bedroom with the door shut when we heard Dennis walk into the house. She sat up, ears alert and watched the bedroom door from the bed. When Den opened it, she flung herself to the floor and immediately started to rub his legs and purr. She did not flee, and did not attack. When she played with us, she kept her claws in, which is significant in feline manners.

Her name is Carmelita, cat of humble origin but queenly and benevolent countenance and gentle friendly manner. I find her an astute and affectionate companion who follows me from room to room, curiously researching everything in our midst with sweet delight, her tail often forming the shape of a question mark and turning it into an exclamation point. Somehow, I quickly won her heart and I am not sure how that happened. But I feel blessed for it.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Obesity Issues

I wore a pair of pants to church this morning that used to fit perfectly, but now are too big--almost too big to wear, but they stayed on. I bought them ten years ago, and they have been a favorite part of my wardrobe. Last week, I wore a favorite skirt that I had to pin the waistband of, because it was slipping off.

I have mixed feelings about this:

Elation because I have tangible proof that I am losing weight. I really can't tell, even when the numbers on the scale give me good news.

Grief because my weight had been as bad as it was.

Hope that it will continue on.

Concern now that I have to buy new clothes and that means spending money.

Surprise since I haven't been feeling deprived in changing my eating habits and exercise.

Thankful that God is helping me manage this, to Him be the glory.

So, I have to start saying good bye to some old clothes. I tend to wear the same things frequently, so I tend to be attached to them. It won't be easy, even though it's a good thing.

There is a tendency for many overweight women to focus on the other things concerning their appearance but not make healthy eating choices. Spend a lot of money on clothes, jewelry, hair, perfume, etc... I've never figured out why that is, but I suspect that it is a form of compensating, and an issue of shame. You feel that you have more control over those things than over what you weigh. The real deal is that weight is more about maintaining health (spiritual, emotional and physical) than beauty. When we see that, which is hard to do, it makes losing weight a less emotionally charged thing. Well, it works for me.

I tried behavior modification, rewarding myself with things to keep up the good habits. When I recieve gift cards, bonus incentives from work or coupons clipped from newspaper ads or magazines, I save them to use them at the right time instead of mindlessly whenever I feel like it. It helps sometimes. It's a better alternative than beating myself up over failure, and helps me to not take these steps to change for granted. It aligns me toward hope instead of despair.

I eat for health, not to comfort myself emotionally.

So, the spiritual side of it I'm still working on, that is, my relationship with God. To Him I need to bring my deepest worries that I have about having diabetes. To Him I must turn to in repentence. In Him I trust that He would give me strength to obey, even when it is hard. From Him is my source of comfort, that He is with me always.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Another Potter Blog

I read Harry Potter 7 a week and a half ago, in one sitting. It was a fast reading, the way I approach most Potter books. You know, you wait for years wondering what will happen next, and finally when you get the chance, you go full tilt. At the end, instead of thinking, "Is that all there is?", you are in agony that the next volume won't be out in years.

If you don't learn anything from actually reading Harry Potter, at least you experience the lessons of long term gratification versus short term gratification. Americans that we are, we don't like having to wait for anything. J.K. Rowling makes the wait worth it. J.K. Rowling is cool that way.

Before I read "Deathly Hallows", I waited two extra days to buy it until I had a full day off. I knew once I had a copy, it would be hard for me to not to read it nonstop. I read a lot, but I am only this way with Potter books. I usually read several books at once, sort of sampling a few chapters in one book and then switching to another completely different. Or, sometimes, I read several books dealing with the same theme. Often, I like to rent DVD's the same way.

And what do I think about Rowling's latest? I don't know. I'm still processing it.

A girl at work is very conservative. She doesn't even wear pants--skirts always. When I told her that I was planning to read the new Potter on my day off, she asked me a question she already knew the answer to about Harry's occupation, and shared how uncomfortable she was with reading about magic, even as a fantasy. I respect that. And it really put a damper on my enjoyment of the books, questioning why I chose to read them.

Initially, I started to read them because so many of the younger people that I work with love them. Sometimes, they are a jumping off point to talk about spiritual things, or even moral things. Already, I spoke with a co-worker about The Chronicles of Narnia, which she never read and I offered to share the DVD with her. Another co-worker is an atheist, and we talked about the latest movie and my discomfort at watching adults trying to kill teenaged students. He has a lot in common with my conservative co-worker, his moral compass is just as finely tuned as hers. He doesn't like the violence in Harry Potter, especially scenes where children are targets for murder, Cedric dying in The Order of Phoenix totally turned him off, as well as kids playing life threatening nonsensical games on flying broomsticks. And he didn't like kids breaking rules and being rewarded for it. He just isn't entertained.

Which all were good conversations I never would have had without talking about Harry Potter.

But the reason I like to read them is because, as you might have guessed already, Severus Snape intrigues me. Obviously, he packs around a lot of emotional baggage, and his treatment of Harry gives away that he's damaged goods. After he killed Dumbledore, I really wanted to know if there was any way Rowling could redeem him, convincingly. I wanted to know what keeps abused people from perpetuating the abuse. I wanted to know if Rowling believes that there was hope for the redemption of Snapes in the real world. Rowling's message in that regard, is that it comes at high prices. My question has been, was Snape willing to pay the price? And to my surprise, The Deathly Hallows reveals that Dumbledore and Snape had a lot in common.

Has J.K. Rowling really written something that will be worth reading and re-reading years beyond today? After all the questionable violence, open hatred and spell casting? I think J.K. Rowling set the bar higher for children's literature--that she understands kids a lot better than most of us. She knows that they are seeing the real frightening, abusive world as it really is, no matter how much adults try to protect them from it. And for every loved child who experiences protection from the world's harshest realities, there are thousands who are the victims of those same harsh realities. It would be good, I think, for them to know from the examples set in Rowling's books that it is possible to forgive those who hurt you, and even love when love is not given in return. Perhaps then, the Gospel message would seem familiar to them, and they would welcome it? If the price to pay is to invent magic as a fantasy, is it too high a price? Is it too high a price to sacrifice beloved characters to grisly deaths, and subject the story's hero to it over and over again? Rowling doesn't seem to think so. And I think she's cool that way.