Taking it all For Granted

The morning after the rare snowstorm, bringing 22 degree temperatures and no power!

We are experiencing a rare polar temperature plunge. In fact, it is colder here in VA BCH than in Northern Michigan right now. Last night’s snowstorm (another rarity) dropped about 4 “of icy snow and we woke up to clear blue skies, sunshine, and NO POWER.
We were better prepared for power outages when we lived on a country road in Michigan. Frequent blizzards and ice storms necessitated the use of our trusty generator and wood stove almost every winter. We simply cooked in the downstairs kitchen on the gas stove instead of using the electric stove in our regular kitchen or cooked something in a pot on the wood-burner as we heated the house. The generator ran the pump and kept the refrigerator cold, and was equipped with a convenient switch that routed the power to house when the power went down. And, if the well failed, our backyard pond could supply ample water till things straightened out again.
But, a few years ago, we traded the country life for a neighborhood in a major city. Shopping is better; there are at least 6 different grocery stores within a 3 mile circle from our home, and multiple malls and big box stores within 10 miles. We have numerous hospitals close by, and are not limited to medical care. Entertainment opportunities abound in the big city. And, instead of our closest neighbors being a half mile down the dirt road, we have community.
This morning, however, I missed the country life. While we have a gas furnace, the ignition and fan are electric. We have a gas stove, but had to find matches to light the burners. And, as we watched the interior temperatures drop, we reminisced over the ease of flipping a generator switch in the country house as we debated about which appliances were the most important to access the generator first. Thankfully water is not a problem, because the city feeds provide pressure for flushing toilets, but how to keep the pipes from freezing?
We dug out our long underwear, dressed in layers and boiled a kettle of water to make to coffee. I was amused to find myself automatically reaching for light switches in rooms, only to remember, “Oh, no power.” We take having electricity at our fingertips for granted.
This is the first power outage we have experienced here; the lines are buried so even during the past three hurricanes, our lights have not flickered. Nearly 4,000 customers were without power this morning and I am grateful for the crews who worked in the 22 degree cold to quickly restore our electricity.
This minor blip, this short term power outage, makes me think of all the other things we casually take for granted in our lives. Having available food, a home, clothing, friends, instant technology, freedom to worship, living in relative safety, and health are all treasures. And most of all, a loving creator God who wants to have a personal relationship with us.
In a recent Sunday school class, we talked with the elementary children about living without electricity. They were horrified by the thought of not having their tablets and cell phones. One ten year old said he could live without electricity as long as he could still play his video games any time he wanted. An eleven year old girl said she couldn’t live without her cell phone. We teachers struggled to help them understand that there are places on earth where people live without such modern conveniences, but I’m sure they thought we were exaggerating. Not only do we, as a population, take our luxuries for granted, but we claim them as a necessity.
Yet the only REAL necessity we have in this life is a personal relationship with our loving creator God. He supplies all of our needs, from the air in our lungs, to the food we eat and the clothing we wear. Everything we are and have come from His hand.
In Exodus 33, the Bible records a conversation between God and Moses. The people have rebelled and God is angry. He tells Moses that He will send an angel to bring them to the Promised Land but He will not go with them because of their sin. The people repent and God relents. Moses declares, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.”
We need to cultivate the heart of Moses. It isn’t our creature comforts that matter the most, but our relationship with God. We need God’s presence in our lives far more than electricity and other modern conveniences. And, like electricity, He is always near, but we just take Him for granted.

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Snap, Crackle…and…POP!

Accidents happen. They come out of the blue, unplanned and unexpected. They disrupt your life, cause injury, and make you painfully aware of your own destructibility.

I was at a family party, celebrating the second and fourth birthdays of granddaughters two and three. The family was gathered at my son’s table, finishing lunch and laughing as we visited. In one smooth move, I scooped up the used party plates and was in the process of pivoting around in my chair while standing up, planning to deposit them in the trash container behind me. Instead I landed head-first in my niece’s lap! Somehow I managed to get a foot tangled up with the leg of my chair and the table leg.

The culprits: chair and table leg.

I think I managed to hook my little toe on the aluminum chair leg, bending the last two toes skyward. The remaining toes smashed against the table leg, pressing them downwards. Imagine a circus strongman ripping a phone book in half down the middle. Now exchange the phone book for my foot!

My foot immediately inflated and discolored. I could still wiggle my toes, so I assumed nothing was broken. It wouldn’t “flex” and I had a funny bump on the sole under my little toe, but I could still put weight on the heel and hobble along. Wearing a shoe was out of the question, but I managed an over-sized flip flop. Wrapping my foot in athletic tape provided some support and helped quell the throbbing pain and the swelling gradually decreased.

Tutti-fruity colors; the nail polish is hiding the bruises UNDER the nails.

I have broken a toe before and the remedy was to “buddy tape” it to the toe next door. I figured I was in for a long six weeks and was grateful that it happened in the summer so I didn’t have to try to wear real shoes. I slept with it elevated and outside of the covers to avoid the weight of blankets.

A nurse friend suggested that I probably should get x-rays and cautioned that if I broke the socket, I might need surgery. I was leaving the next day for a week-long trip and figured I would see a doctor when I got home if it wasn’t any better by the time I returned home.

Our first night of the trip was spent at a charming, rustic 1940’s style Lodge on Skyline Drive. No televisions in the room, no a/c, and no elevators! The down comforter on the double bed gave the room a European feel.

Our charming room at the Lodge.

We climbed the steep, double flight of stairs and I hobbled down the hall to our room. The narrow room could only accommodate a full sized bed, instead of a Queen or King, and the right side of the bed was only about a foot from the wall. I opted to sleep on the bathroom side, despite placing my sore foot on the center of the bed.

Sometime during the night I woke up yelling and moaning. Deep asleep, I must have gotten my foot wrapped up in the bedding and thrashed it into my husband’s leg as I tried to kick free of the covers. I remember feeling a “POP” as I hit his leg, and a white-hot flash of intense pain.

But in the morning, my foot was fine! I suspect I had dislocated my toe in the accident and the night-time impact realigned it. God’s chiropractic adjustment! God restored my foot during the night. The throbbing pain was gone, my foot could flex again and the odd lump under my little toe had vanished. I can walk again!

Isaiah 52:7 says “How blessed are the feet of those who bring good news.” One week after the “adjustment,” I am only dealing with minor bruising and muscle strain but am well on the way to full recovery.

Flipping the “Dog House.”

Why I haven’t been blogging for the past two and a half years….

The house-hunting ordeal had begun again. This was not a new game for us; we had lived at 16 different addresses in our nearly 40 years of marriage; this was not a corporate move as many of the prior ones had been, but finding a long-term home after retirement. And, after years of major renovations in the homes we had purchased, my handy-man husband had stipulated he didn’t want to buy another house that needed work!

We began looking on-line, ruling out hundreds of homes before ever driving by or stepping inside them. Wrong room lay-outs, not enough bedrooms, awful kitchens, no garden space in the back yard, lack of garage, or just out of our price range took its toll. Finally we narrowed the list to about 30 homes and contacted a real estate agent who drove us around for weeks, only to have us turn our thumbs down on all of them.

It was discouraging. This community has thousands of homes for sale, but every single one of them had some major flaw that eliminated it from our consideration. After all, this was not a house that we would need to resell in a year or two when the company needed my husband’s skills at a new location; this would be a permanent home until we were too fragile to live on our own.

One sunny Sunday afternoon, as my husband settled on the sofa for an afternoon of football, I dug back into the internet searching and discovered two “Open House” homes in an area we liked. He was involved in watching his games so I went alone.

I fell in love with the first house. From the moment I walked through the front door, I liked everything I saw. (Remember, we were looking for a house that wouldn’t need any work!) And this one was a beauty! There were no worn, dirty carpets to replace; there were no textile floors at all. All of the floors and even the stairs were finished in wood. It had real wooden cupboards in the kitchen.

Our dream list included a formal living room, formal dining room, large kitchen, family room with a fireplace, at least four bedrooms, a screened back porch, and a space in the backyard for a garden, a two car garage and a shed. And this place had it all…almost. The only thing missing was the screening on the covered porch in back, but that was an easy fix. It was at the high end of our price range but was the first house that actually fulfilled our list and it was beautiful.

I then drove a couple of blocks to the second Open House listing. Pots of dead plants peeked out from under the overgrown shrubbery and long grass grew from the multiple cracks in the driveway. The door was missing from the mailbox and the screens were tattered. Paint was peeling from the front porch and door trim and the front door and garage door were painted a hideous purple. Things didn’t improve much when I walked inside.

The floors were covered in original builder grade carpeting that was nearly worn through and filthy. The walls had recently been spray painted in a flat white, complete with paint runs down the walls and on the dusty, faded window treatments. Most of the window glass had broken seals and were completely fogged. The kitchen was big with a nice floor-plan but the condition of the appliances, cabinets and flooring were a complete distraction. Two of the four bathrooms had new ceramic floors, but the other two floors were worn and torn. Even the registers were bent and rusted.

Upstairs bedrooms still sported the original builder grade paint and an accumulation of all the dirt and abuse from the day it was first purchased by the original owner. Outdated light fixtures missing globes, filthy carpet, dirty walls and cracked door frames adorned every bedroom and peeling thermafoil cabinets in the bathrooms.

No shed or screened porch in the backyard, either. The two car garage didn’t even have an automatic door opener and was filled with boxes. The man door to the side yard was rusted nearly through.

The house was a wreck. I didn’t spend much time looking at it, mentally contrasting it with the jewel a few blocks away. My husband heard a glowing review of that house when I got home but was told, “Don’t waste your time even looking at the second house; it is a DOG!”

We went through the “Jewel House” a couple of times with our agent. And my husband’s engineer eye pointed out flaws that I had overlooked. The shed was too small, the backyard wasn’t large enough, and there was a foreclosed, crumbling house right next door. The street was busy, with lots of cars parked alongside because the driveways were so short.

We continued the hunt, but our selection was rapidly dwindling. So, we finally expanded our search to include “houses that may need some work.”

We toured houses with buckled floors, mold issues, holes in the walls and ceilings, and some that needed major foundation repair. Even despite these major flaws, we never found a floor plan that we agreed on. We wanted a house with a downstairs bedroom and bath so when we are too rickety to maneuver stairs, we would have a bedroom on the main floor. Surprisingly, they are very rare in our community.

Finally, he said, “Let’s go through the ‘Dog house.’” And, as he toured the house, he said, “I like it!” I groaned. Sure, it was livable in its current condition, because a family had lived here for years, but it was a wreck of a house.

There was a bedroom and full bath on the main floor but there was no shed and no screened porch. And, there was WORK everywhere! We debated its pros and cons at length, but I reluctantly agreed to making an offer when he asked, “Would you like it if it had wood flooring throughout, a new kitchen, a privacy fence, a shed, a screened porch, and modern light fixtures?” “Well, sure. It would be like a different house then.”

Despite not wanting to take on another home remodel project, we agreed on the floor plan, the neighborhood, and the largish sunlit back yard. We are not afraid of doing hard work and have the know-how to do many things ourselves so we placed an offer, subject to the house passing a home inspection.

The inspector said the house was well constructed, better even than some of the homes in surrounding neighborhoods, but refused to turn on the microwave oven because the plastic back of the box was melted off from an interior fire, the dishwasher flooded the kitchen floor when we tested it, and the carbon monoxide alarm rang continuously. A separate heat pump inspection revealed a cracked heat exchanger and owner’s bypass attempts that were pumping toxic gas into the home whenever you turned on the heat.

We threatened to withdraw the offer if they did not replace the heat pump and surprisingly, they installed a new unit. The appliances were ancient, and we decided not to make an issue out of something we would be replacing anyway.

In our area, the seller must vacate the house of all possessions before the final closing. The purchaser makes a final walk through the property, viewing it empty, and has a final opportunity to change their mind and withdraw the offer. And the sale nearly fell apart at the closing table.

During their pack out, someone had backed a truck into the garage door, and smashed it to the point of being unusable. We said we wanted a new garage door; they said it was like that when we placed our offer. I produced photos and our agents began to negotiate. I was ready to walk away from the table; the sellers were not happy that they were forced to replace the heat pump and did not want to replace the door. Finally they said that one of their helpers had backed up too far and smashed in the door and would give us the money for an equivalent door. Tense emotions calmed and we closed the sale.

We were moving into the “Dog House” but the overwhelming amount of work prevented us from making that move right away. We began stripping carpeting from all the floors, tearing up the worn hardwood in the entry, and taking down the dust-caked, paint smeared window treatments. The first week of home ownership was a flurry of appliance shopping, meeting with window repairmen, and multiple trips to the landfill. We hired a company to repaint interior rooms, and it was one of the best decisions we could have made.

The upgrades were not all cosmetic; there was rotted subflooring that needed repaired, and holes in the walls, as well as places where the plaster had fallen off from moisture damage. The house looked much worse once it was emptied, and we found surprises that were hidden by the worn carpeting.

We had purchased new stainless steel appliances and had no sooner arranged for delivery when the refrigerator died. The grease caked stove was the only appliance that was still functional when the new units were installed.

Instead of selecting solid hardwood flooring, we decided to install a laminate throughout the house, based on scratch and dent resistance reviews. We have installed and lived with solid oak hardwood floors in a previous home, and found them to scratch and dent easily. We had installed premium laminate flooring in the condo we were currently flipping and were impressed with the durability, feel, and luxurious appearance, as well as the ease of installation.

We figured it took roughly three 8 man-hour days per room to install the flooring and my husband, my daughter, and I tackled the project. We lay flooring in the critical rooms, like a bedroom and storage room so we could vacate and sell the condo, slowly moving our belongings out of storage units as flooring was finished in each room. Basically, we camped in the construction zone.

When the flooring was finished, the furniture brought out of storage, boxes unpacked and life began to settle in, we received a letter about a class action lawsuit concerning our flooring selection. We needed to test it for formaldehyde gassing as it might be a health hazard. After thorough testing, the flooring was deemed acceptable.

A five ft long tick list hangs on the side of the refrigerator. It details all of the things for each room, from replacing the rusted air vent covers, replacing window treatments, replacing the outdated light fixtures, replacing the paint crusted, mismatched door hinges and knobs, to replacing the torn screens and broken window panes. As we finish and item we scratch it off the list.

We purchased a shed from a company that delivered it to our lot, hired a contractor to build the screened porch on the back of the house, and hired a carpenter to install a privacy fence. I tackled the peeling thermafoil on the bathroom vanities, peeled them off with a heat gun and painted them. The guest bath on the main floor has been stripped out and upgraded.

Instead of putting bandages on the awful kitchen cabinets and worn out kitchen floor, we decided to gut and replace everything with new flooring, custom wood cupboards, and the prettiest granite countertop I have ever seen.

Two and a half years later, most of the rooms are done, but we still have some big projects to tackle. One bathroom is still untouched, sporting its 1980 wallpaper and broken acrylic shower stall. We are in the process of insulating and dry-walling one of the two large unfinished rooms, and still have one exterior door to replace.

The “Dog House” has essentially been flipped. It is beautiful, welcoming, and prettier than it was when it was new. We host weekly Bible Studies and it is a place of ministry. My daughter said, “You have flipped the “Dog “house. What do you get when you flip the word Dog? It is now the ‘God House!’” You can’t get any better than that!

And The Lord says, “Trust Me.”

My trust muscle is getting stretched some more today. It has been a grueling summer of selling our home (twice!), moving cross country, and a blur of packing and unpacking. I have purged, and packed, and wept as I have let go of items of sentimental value, and said good-bye to dear friends and a house and property that I loved.

On the flip side of all that stress, is the awesome revival of a dead dream. I lived here before and hated leaving my church, my friends, my home, and my life. And now, years later after all hope was gone, The Lord opened the door and made a way for me to return. But, my joy today is tempered with a dose of frustration.

And, this frustration is over a house! I want to be settled into a “forever house” with a yard for a garden. For months I have been long-distance stalking home sales via the internet, but was never in a position to seriously look, until now. I have watched most of the homes that I have liked and could afford to buy progress from “for sale” to “pending” to ultimately “sold.” Apparently my tastes must be similar to most other home buyers; the houses I like seem to be snapped up in a hurry.

Today’s pending home sale was the last home on my original “watch list.” It has an accepted offer and is no longer officially on the market. Sales contracts sometimes fall through; I personally experienced it this summer on the FIRST sale of our home. The Lord is faithful, and ten days later we received an even better offer and were able to close the sale.

This is another opportunity to trust Jesus; another opportunity to reflect on His faithfulness, restoration, and love for me and not get tangled up in the weeds of circumstances. But, silly human that I am, I tend to be short-sighted and lose focus on the big picture. My gerbil-brain forgets all of the times The Lord has provided for me time and time again. I get caught in the thistles of here and now and am easily distracted. But He is faithful, and The Lord says, “Trust me.”

Whom Are We Really Offending?

Today is Halloween or more specifically, All Hallows Eve, the day before the Christian feast day dedicated to the celebration of heaven being the final destination for all who claim Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Just as many begin their official celebration of Christmas on December 24, or Christmas Eve, All Hallows Eve traditionally was the “kick-off party” to the celebration of “All Saints Day.”

One year our church hosted a children’s party that focused on the celebration of those of us who looked forward to heaven – those of us still here on earth fighting in the trenches of spiritual warfare. No spooky or gory costumes were permitted. Children were to dress in costumes representing Believers who had died in Christ and were now triumphantly in heaven. The party looked a lot like a gathering of “The Village People” with many tinkers, tailors, and Indian Chiefs.

But this year, a school district in Colorado sent letters home to parents stating that children’s Halloween party costumes criteria no longer allowed children to dress up as cowboys or Indians, nor wear any other attire which the school might find offensive, particularly any outfit that might offend any ethnic group. (No more gypsies, geishas, flamenco dancers, or Mexican freedom fighters, like Zorro, allowed either!) Witches, ghouls, vampires, goblins and zombies are permitted.

The American culture is steeped in death and the occult. Tune into prime time television on any night and take note of the parade of undead, witches, and vampires. Even commercials have zombies trying to buy cell phones! The school’s permission of gory, occultic and demonic costumes shouldn’t offend anyone, right? And many Christians, lulled into the fog of political correctness, allow their offspring to dress up as a zombie, witch, or vampire and think nothing of it, because the costumes are not offending any particular ethnic group.

Whom are we really offending? We are so caught up with political correctness, that we completely miss the offense we are committing toward our God and Creator. His love letter to us, the Holy Bible, warns us to have nothing to do with the occult and to avoid every appearance of evil. Satan celebrates death, while Jesus came that we might enjoy abundant life.

Christians, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” Don’t be changed by the culture we live in, but transform the culture around you by letting the light of Christ-in-you shine and dispel the darkness, and battle on!

The Miracle Mutt

Miracle Mutt Give thanks to the LORD for he is good; His love endures forever. Psalm 107:1

My daughter’s little dog is a Miracle Mutt. He managed to injure himself last week in a duel to the death with a bathroom rug. The evil rug was destroyed, but it nearly took him with it. There were no witnesses to this battle; he was discovered lying listlessly on the floor with the rug in shreds around him. His left hind leg was useless and he trembled in horrible pain, refusing food and water.

The vet suspected a blown disc was the cause, but nothing was revealed by x-rays. A blood scan revealed nothing abnormal. Yet, the little guy was in intense pain. Even pain meds didn’t seem to eradicate his suffering. More x-rays and additional vet visits failed to reveal the cause of his problems. Stumped, the Dr. suggested a neurosurgeon, but warned that the tests alone would cost thousands of dollars.

One thing we knew, the poor dog wouldn’t last long in his current condition. It looked very grim. He would only drink from a syringe as he lay quivering from the pain. At one point he lost bladder control and couldn’t even stand. She hand fed him special foods and wept.

My daughter was heartbroken, and we all cried together at the thought of euthanizing her beloved pet. Without the funds to cover such a catastrophic event, she would have him put out of his suffering if he failed to improve over the weekend.

We prayed. We posted on Facebook and friends and family prayed. She teaches Sunday School and the children in her class prayed.

Deciding that his final day would be as good as she could make it, they went to his favorite place and spent several hours at the ocean as she prayed and cried. And God was gracious and merciful.

On Monday, the dog stood up and limped around her living room. He began putting the injured foot down to the ground and began to void his bladder and bowels without assistance. He wants to play! He is so perky that she worries that he may reinjure himself.

The vet was not sure he would last through the weekend, but we are celebrating God’s mercy. Whatever the cause of his injury, we believe that God is in the process of miraculously healing my daughter’s little dog. We are humbled and grateful beyond words, praising our God and King for his great love.

Psalm 116: I love the LORD for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy…The LORD is gracious and righteous. our God is full of compassion.

Cat Tales

We spend our summers in a rural area, surrounded by dairy farms and fields of corn. Our ten acres is its own little wild-life sanctuary, populated by deer, pheasants, rabbits, and feral cats.

We sometimes stumble upon nests of feral kittens tucked away in the flower bed or woodshed They are wild little creatures. Perhaps their ancestors were once tame, ending up in this life by abandonment by their owners, or getting lost by their own wandering, these offspring have long forgotten how to be loved. They run when they see a human, exist by their own wits, and are frequently meals for the coyote and hawk population. Life is short and difficult in the wild. These feral cats will “visit” my tame cats through the window of my house, and hiss and spit at them, as if challenging them to fight.

Our first Maine Coon cat was rescued from this life. Riley was nearly starving when he found us, assumingly abandoned on our lonely dirt road. The vet gave him a clean bill of health and we adopted the cat into our home. He immediately bonded with me and was always at my side like a faithful dog. It was almost as if he remembered his frightening life in the wild and gratefully appreciated his redemption.

After Riley’s death we acquired another Maine Coon cat, this time from a breeder. Buster has always been pampered, loved and cared for. He has never experienced hardship and seems to take his care for granted and that his needs will always be met. He has been with us a number of years and is only just begun to show signs of bonding with me.

The state of these cats remind me of people and their relationship to Jesus Christ.

The feral cats make me think of people who are lost. Perhaps their ancestors knew the Lord, but influences of culture or bad choices drove them away from God. Their children and grandchildren have lived by their wits and without the knowledge of Jesus Christ. And, like the cats who hiss through the windows of my house, they often try to pick fights with those who follow Jesus.

Riley, my rescued cat, puts me in mind of people who come out of the wild, who make a conscious decision to follow Jesus and are infinitely grateful for being rescued. They remember their life before Christ and never want to go back to living without Him. They are faithful.

Buster makes me think of people who have been raised in a Christian heritage. They have grown up surrounded by a Christian culture and influence through their parents and grandparents. Perhaps they have always attended Christian schools and been raised in a church environment. They have never known a life without Christian influence. They are at risk of assuming that because their family is Christian, they are as well, and this is a dangerous assumption. God has children, but not grandchildren. Everyone must make their own decision to follow Christ.

What kind of a cat are you? Do you need to come out of the wild and be rescued? Have you been adopted into God’s family? The cry for salvation is a prayer that God always hears and answers.