Monday, November 29, 2010

We Have Our Reasons

From an exhibit in the Frontier Trails Museum, we learned pioneers endured hardships crossing the western American wilderness for a surprising variety of reasons. Among the reasons to climb into a covered wagon on the 900-mile Santa Fe Trail or the 2,000-mile Oregon Trail were the following.
  • Not be left alone
  • Write a book
  • Avoid the law
  • Be an actress
  • Start a company
  • Build an empire
  • Have a honeymoon
  • Live as a slave
  • Gain religious freedom
  • Be a missionary to Native Americans
  • Go to war
  • Go fishing
  • Paint
  • Escape debts
  • Get free land
  • Trap and sell furs
Another pioneer account said, “Why not? I’ve lost everything else.”

Think of the stories behind each pioneer’s decision to go west. I wonder how many people knew the dangers that awaited them and took the risks anyway, and how many gloried in idealistic visions. My guess is that in the early 1800s, most pioneers were used to hard work and exposure to the elements; they probably didn’t think life on the trail would be easy. I know some underestimated the grueling terrain, however, because one artifact in the Trails Museum is a grandfather clock chucked trailside to lighten the load.

I wonder what group dynamics were like then, too. For safety, people traveled in organized wagon trains. Who was in command? Why was he chosen? What were his leadership skills? How did he make decisions and communicate them?

Not much has changed since pioneer days—at least inside people. We each have frontiers to cross, we need to manage expectations and cooperate with others to survive and thrive, and we all have our reasons.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy.  Psalm 126:3

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.  ~G.K. Chesterton

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.  ~Thornton Wilder

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.  ~William Arthur Ward

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Road Trip Reflections: Past Patterns

The week before Thanksgiving, we took a 1,200-mile road trip through Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and southern Illinois. Had a few musings …

In our room at one B&B, the wallpaper was the exact pattern my ex-husband and I had labored to put up in our dining room back in the 1970s. The pattern was sweet—small, alternating cornflower blue and rosy pink hearts in vertical stripes. In our B&B room now, the browned edges of each section were curled up at the seams. Beneath the jagged-cut bottom, I could see what looked like brown-and-yellow geometric-patterned linoleum beneath the heart wallpaper. Hmmm, I thought. Marriages separate at the seams, too, because older, not-properly-disposed-of past patterns clash with new romance.

Speaking of not-properly-disposed-of past patterns …

Leaving our B&B, we headed toward a little town we’d visited the day before, just north of the B&B. Or we thought we were headed there, anyway. Turns out, instead of heading north, I’d turned east. We went about 10 miles and our entire conversation reflected uneasiness:

·        That’s an unusual looking tower. What is it? A cell tower? I don’t remember that from yesterday.
·        Wow, get a load of that humongous American flag above that farm house. Did we see that yesterday?
·        Now there’s a junkyard for those antiques scavengers on TV. Look at that school bus for sale; its engine has been stripped. You know, if we’d passed that yesterday, surely I’d remember it today, wouldn’t I?
·        There’s another water tower on stilts—looks like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. It says Tiffin on it; I don’t remember going through Tiffin yesterday, do you?
·        I thought that town was only about 3 miles north of the B&B; we’ve gone 10. Uh-oh, here’s a high school. I KNOW we didn’t pass that yesterday.

We turned around in the high school parking lot to head back, and you know what? The whole 10 miles backtracking, our conversation was marked by comfortable familiarity. Yup, there’s the Tiffin Tin Man. Oh, and the junked school bus. We eagerly spotted the huge flag. We anticipated the odd-looking tower.

These milestones were like old friends, making the wrong road feel right. I know some paths in my life feel familiar but do not lead to godly womanhood. To change then—to conform my mind to Christ’s, to travel from the woman I was to the woman God wants me to be—I cannot expect to feel comfortable seeing familiar sights, because sometimes comfort means I'm on the wrong road and not on a new faith adventure with God.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

One wheel or two?

To show His sense of humor ~ or maybe divine justice ~ God brought my niece and her unicycle to a family party Sunday. Why is this funny, or my just desserts? My talk at the women’s retreat used a unicycle metaphor throughout. What if the person you’re in relationship with won’t pedal his or her half of the tandem you’re supposed to be riding together? You learn to ride a unicycle!

I built a scriptural case for seeing your bondage to expectations that the other person pedal. Learning to ride a unicycle is—
  • wanting freedom from this bondage,
  • knowing Jesus is your only hope,
  • keeping your eyes on the Lord,
  • standing firm as the Lord fights for your deliverance
It’s a new habit, much like learning to ride a unicycle would be, I confidently proclaimed, though I had never tried this myself. (In my defense, I will say I spoke from experience in the figurative sense, the spiritual unicycle riding. And I interviewed a local guy who rides his unicycle 40 miles a day around here to get an idea of how he learned.)

Little did I know then that my niece has been proficient on the unicycle since 4th grade and that she’d treat us to a “performance” that even included tricks ~ and that we’d all get to try riding the confounded thing. Shall I just say, “Laughter ensued”? If I can upload the video some kind family member took of me, I’ll do so to share the laughs with you. And then I plan to keep my mouth shut about skills I clearly don’t possess.  

Monday, November 8, 2010

From Beach Walk to Woods Walk

Winter welcomed us home from Florida with daily foretastes of chills to come. Last week was not just parka-with-the-hood-up cold; it was parka-with-the-hood-cinched-tight-around-the-face cold. I found myself thinking:
  • I miss short sleeves and carefree bare feet and sea foam tickling my toes.
  • I miss walking in white, bubbly surf, under green bunches of sea grapes, beneath the surfboard painted with loggerhead turtles hanging above the door of Starbucks.

This week, however, our third(?) Indian summer elbowed winter out of the neighborhood, and I’m not missing Florida’s balmy breezes because we have our own. Besides, today a friend invited me to walk in a forest near her house. Well, her house is near my house, and I couldn’t even imagine what forest she was talking about. So off we trekked across bleached-yellow corn fields and tawny-grassed prairie paths to a stately grove of tall gray trees around a large, sparkling green pond. Although not a majestic sight, its simple beauty, its hiddenness, its stillness made any sound above a whisper seem irreverent. Then God must have thought, “Wait, if you like that scene, I’ll give you more.” A huge deer with antlers (and here, you can tell I’m not a guy because a guy would know the right name for this magnificent creature) emerged from the trees and stood staring at us. Then he trotted along another line of trees, crossed our path, and disappeared into dense underbrush. More hushed moments. I felt as if I’d been given an embarrassing array of gifts. I came home exhilarated and energized enough to clean up the summer garden and ready it to plant garlic and shallots.

Gradual Transitions

I like gradual transitions, and this fall is one. Roses and acorn squash at the same time. An April crocus crowned with snow is hopeful; a November rose rimmed with snow is downright depressing. This year I'm grateful for just enough frost to kill ragweed but not roses. Oh, and no snow on the roses or squash ~ yet.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Book Review: The Help

To answer Michelle's question about how I liked The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, here is the book review I posted on
[Spoiler Alert review] Funny, endearing, heart-rending. This book fully engaged me from start to finish. I loved Aibileen, liked Minnie, identified with Skeeter; and my heart ached for all three as they determined to tell the truth about racial prejudice at a time when doing so was dangerous. The Help is a modern To Kill a Mockingbird.

Seeing what colored maids of white families endured in the 1960s disturbed me. Seeing what whites did to blacks who crossed arbitrary, capriciously hateful lines made me sick to my stomach. Knowing I was alive but oblivious when all this went on, when I was old enough to be aware and care, sobered me. I appreciated how effectively this story of three brave women transported me to that historic time. This book also made me so grateful for progress in the racial equality arena.

Although The Help deals with a serious topic, the book is humorous, thanks to Aibileen's and Minnie's senses of humor and precious, precious candor. Author Stockett brilliantly portrays the three main characters, as well as the landed gentry.

My only disappointment was a weaker ending than I'd hoped for. That societal changes at the end of the book weren't more dramatic reflects conditions in the 1960s. It gratified me that the courage of Aibileen, Minnie, and Skeeter throughout the story generated even more courage in them, for their personal futures. I was rooting so hard for them, I guess I forgot that strength of hindsight cannot instantly overpower longstanding societywide hatred.

Among many things I liked about The Help ~ including the use of dialects and the three-points-of-view approach to telling a story about points of view ~ was the example of Aibileen's and Minnie's Christian church being truly the family of God. 

Some other book reviews I've written are at, in case you might like to read them. The general site is a good place to go for broad selection of book reviews.