Thursday, August 14, 2014

How to: Catch a Fly in the House

This post is for all you fly haters out there, who loathe sharing house space with a despicable, noisy fly. A functional fly swatter will be helpful, but not essential to your success in removing the fly. If your fly swatter no longer functions due to swatting too many flies, use the alternative night-light method detailed below.

I'm sure it's happened to all of us. You are just getting into bed after a long, tiring day. You're exhausted and looking forward to a restful sleep. Then you hear it -- bzzz as a big black fly cruises  around the room. The moment you fetch the fly swatter, it disappears; but you know it's probably resting behind the night stand, waiting for lights out to resume its sleep-disturbing explorations. What to do?

Or perhaps you have invited your fastidious relatives over for a meal (probably a bad idea to start with) and you're putting the finishing touches on the meal when a fly swoops in from nowhere and starts checking out the pickles. You could swat it easily -- but it never lands except on the food.

Here's what you do. To catch the bedroom fly, turn off your bedroom light and turn on a light right outside your room. Within seconds, the fly will relocate to the brighter room. Continue to lure it using light until you trap it in a small room where it is easy to swat (the bathroom is great). At this point, swat it. If you do not have a fly swatter, plug in a bright nightlight and turn off the bathroom light. The fly will come to the light where it can be easily caught.

This same method may be used to catch the kitchen fly. If it is daytime, first pull the shades to make the room dark, then proceed. You need never eat or sleep with a fly again!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Will God Bless America?

"God Bless America" is one of our most beautiful patriotic songs. It's also a common phrase, used to invoke blessing and peace on our country. Although I love the song, I rarely sing it anymore. It seems to me that expecting God to bless our country, even as much of the population goes on blatantly ignoring and insulting Him, is an affront and a joke. God dealt with Israel when they deserted Him; why should He not deal with America when she deserts Him? God cannot forever continue to bless evil, ungrateful people who brazenly deny His laws, His authority, and His very existence. If we want God to bless our country, we need to be the kind of country God has said in His Word that He will bless. There are many verses, but I'll share just a few.

Psalm 33:12 says, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; the people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance." And in Matthew 5:3-10, Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

What a wonderful society this would be if everyone fit this description! We would not need to ask God to bless our country, because He would be blessing us so much we wouldn't know what to do with it all. But I ask you, are these verses really a good description of America today? Do we, as a country, worship God only, or do we chase after wealth, ease, and popularity? Do we realize our spiritual poverty and humbly acknowledge our great need for God, or do we boast about our wisdom and our great accomplishments? Do we mourn over our own sins and the unspeakable injustices committed in our land, or do we belittle, justify, and ignore them? Are we humble and gentle, willing to be corrected when wrong, or do we forcefully demand our rights and our own way? Do we hunger and thirst to do what's right in every circumstance, or do we only care for what's convenient or what will make us look good? Do we extend mercy and forgiveness to those who have wronged us, or do we angrily demand repayment? Do we take the trouble to keep our hearts and minds pure, as God has commanded, or do we permit lust and all kinds of sinful desires to take root and grow in our hearts, producing all kinds of depravity and corruption? Do we strive to make peace with our enemies, or do we just kick them out of the way so we can get on with our life? Do we choose to stand up for what's right, even if it means suffering ridicule and rejection, or do we throw morality to the wind and go along with the crowd?

"Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption; but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life." Galatians 6:7-8

I believe God takes note of those of us whose hearts are right, who hate and stand against the corruption in our society. God rejoices when people repent. He blesses everyone who trusts in Him. If America returns to God, she will be blessed. However, if America instead wants to see what a world without God is like, He will let her find out.

I hope and pray that America will choose to return to God. For I would love to see God once again bless our great country!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Old age doesn't change dog's personality, just his behavior

Chester in 2011
This post is dedicated to my beloved Sheltie of fifteen and a half years, Chester. While Chester is still in good health, old age has brought many trials including stiff joints, loss of hearing, and weak eyesight, all of which eclipse much of his vibrant personality. These days he mostly sleeps, finding his joy in food, petting, and an occasional stroll in the sun.

It's tempting to ignore him, to consign him to the bedroom and spend my time with Daisy, the young upstart terrier cross who's been aspiring to replace him since she arrived (without our permission) two years ago.  For old time's sake, I do my best to care for Chester, but some days it's not very rewarding. I miss the bright dog he used to be -- the dog who always knew what I was saying, who followed me everywhere, who came immediately whenever I called, and who never needed a leash except on the road. Nowadays it's no use talking to him, and he can't go anyplace with me unless I carry him or walk at a turtle's pace (and there had better be a treat handy). He walks into fences and gets stuck in snowbanks, where he cries until I rescue him. It's endearing -- sometimes. But not when I'm running late or it's ten below zero and I have to don a coat and boots to go get him.

Chester dreaming of food! (2013)
While cleaning my room the other day, I ran across a letter I wrote to Chester's breeder on his first birthday, describing his keen intelligence, energy, and fun-loving personality. Traits I had almost forgotten he possessed. Traits he likely still possesses, though no one could tell by his behavior nowadays. Here are some excerpts: 

"I have certainly enjoyed having Chester from the first day until now, and he seems to equally enjoy it here. He is very cute, very smart and faithful, very amusing, and only occasionally somewhat disgusting. I trained him to heel, come, sit, down, and stay, and he knew it all, except the heel, by six months... When he is greeting you, he whines and yips and runs in circles wagging his tail wildly and slapping you with is tongue! If I tell him to sit, he lies down and rolls on his back, whining, licking, and kicking. Of course the tail is wagging at the same time.

"When Chester eats, it must be done with all haste. We laugh at how he vacuums up or "inhales" his food. We had to put obstacles in his dish to slow him down to more than thirty seconds per meal.
Still as cute as ever! (2013)

"Chester loves to do new things. I took him swinging on the rope a few days ago. Do you think he was scared? No, he looked up to where it was tied in the tree, trying to figure out why it creaked. When we got off, he wanted to go for another swing. He ran and jumped for the knot, then tried to hang on with his mouth so he could ride. 

"Chester loves to ride in the wheelbarrow. The other day he sat on three legs, draping the fourth across the load while we went down the driveway. He has also discovered the squirrel and enjoys chasing him and trying to jump up the tree. You know, the typical dog on his hind legs looking intently up the tree. He loves all living things, even grasshoppers. 

"Fetching a ball is one of his favorite games. He will play until he's exhausted, then throw the ball at me again. He also plays Frisbee, though it's too big for him to catch it in midair. He likes this game
Chester (L) in 2011, exhausted after a fetch game with Toby
very much and works hard dragging the big Frisbee back. 

"Chester is a very talkative dog. If his bed has a lump in it, he will groan long and loud. He also groans plenty if he has an itch, if someone holds him too long, or if he is tired."

The letter is going in his scrapbook so I can remember him after he's gone. But meanwhile, I'm glad to be reminded of the wonderful personality that's trapped inside Chester's old body. A personality that doesn't deserve to be ignored just because he can't hear or keep up on a walk. It's up to me to find ways to make him happy.

Looking young in 2011
I believe this same principle can be applied to the elderly people in our lives. They too were young and active and full of dreams, before their body grew feeble and eclipsed that personality. Thanks to Chester, from now on I will be more careful not to judge old dogs or elderly people only by what I can see. It's comforting to eulogize a pet or a loved one after they're gone, but why not remember and appreciate who they are while they're still with you?

Chester doing what he does best -- sleeping!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Adventures with TESSA at the county jails

Thanks to the women’s jail chaplain, my book Tessa: From Fear to Faith has been circulating among the women in the Eau Claire and Chippewa County jails in the last month or so. The chaplain, Margi, asked them to critique the book. “You have lived this sort of stuff,” she said. “Why don’t you go through this book and see if you can find a place where the author messed up; where the story isn’t quite accurate.” The reports came back that they couldn’t find anything amiss; the whole book was “right on the money.” Margi told me the women love the books and have been passing them around from one cell block to another.

On February 6th, Margi invited me to the Chippewa County Jail to talk with the women. All of them had the same question: “How did you write this story?” They sensed I was not Tessa; that I did not come from an abusive and dysfunctional family; yet somehow I had written about their world and their lives with the accuracy and emotion of someone who had been there. So, I got to give my testimony to a very wonderful group of ladies. The women were really open to us. They smiled and laughed and the more they relaxed, the more I relaxed. After a while, we started having a regular back-and-forth conversation around the table. They told me if I kept coming to jails, I would meet many people and hear many stories which I could turn into another book. I explained that I wouldn’t want people to think I was coming just to harvest stories.

“You’ve got to stop worrying so much what people think of you,” they responded. “You learn that real fast in jail.”

“I hope I don’t have to come here to learn it," I joked.

“No, no, don't come in here. It's not good in here,” they told me.

What was really neat is I felt like I was on their level and they were on mine. It wasn't just me giving them advice; they were giving me advice too.

After we closed our meeting with prayer, one of the women went over to this computerized machine and started tapping buttons on the screen. I asked what it was, and they said it was for ordering food and stuff. "Go see for yourself," they urged me. "We don't bite!" I walked over there and it really looked complicated. Like something I would have trouble figuring out. I said, "Man, you gotta be smart to be in here!"

"No, you gotta be dumb to be in here!" they shot back. After that the guard came and we had to leave. But I really did enjoy my visit. I feel like I made a couple of new friends. The chaplain was pleased how it went, and on the afternoon of March 2, she took me into the Eau Claire County Jail to meet the ladies there.

Compared to Chippewa, the Eau Claire County Jail is huge! You could get lost in the waiting room, not to mention the hallways going this way and that. I was thankful to have Margi with me; she knew where she was going. Very soon we had gotten through the security and were up on the second floor, where we met with eleven women around a long table. They also wanted to know how I had written the book, so once again, I had the opportunity to share what God has done in my life.

One of the women especially identified with me when I talked about the time in my life when I was a born-again Christian, yet was still unable to break free from the bondage of sin. I wish I could have given her a hug, because she reminds me so much of myself. I know the frustration of being stuck and unable to change; I was stuck for six and a half years. Margi and I encouraged her to keep seeking God, for He promises that if we seek for Him with all our heart, we will find Him.

At the end of an hour, the first group of women left and the second group came. This time, there were only two. Both had read the book. One of them told me, “This IS my life,” all the way down to the meth.

I pray for all my readers, whether in jail or free, that they will not only identify with the characters and the story, but also with the solution – faith in Christ – and with the examples of how faith must be worked into a person’s life to bring about real change. Some of the women in jail are Christians, but they are stuck, not knowing how to change. Yes, of course there is freedom in Christ, but how is that worked out practically in a person’s life? I wrote into the book some of how God has led me into freedom, but each person’s path will be a little different. Only God can reveal the key to freedom for each of us. And for that, we must seek Him.

“Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened.” – The words of Jesus in Matthew 7:7-8

“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:13

I am excited and humbled by the opportunities God has given me. Sometimes, like Moses, I want to argue with God. “I am so unqualified; send someone else!” But it’s not about me. It never was about me. I’m learning that when I lay aside my own wisdom and let God lead, there is no limit to the places we can go. I don’t have to be qualified or good enough; I just need to follow Him.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Adventures with TESSA at the Juvenile Detention Center

It's the ultimate acid test for any book -- presenting it to the experts and letting them critique it. For my novel, Tessa: From Fear to Faith, the experts are people who have lived the dysfunctional, abusive, drug-ridden, heartbreaking and sometimes violent life that my character Tessa was born into.

When the door opened to share my testimony and talk about TESSA at the juvenile detention center last fall, I was excited... and nervous. Excited, because I always wanted to do something like that, but nervous because I have no experience at all with kids. I felt thoroughly unqualified. And okay, a little bit scared too, especially after orientation. The staff told me how dangerous the kids could be and that I should be ready to defend myself if necessary.

When I went in with the chaplain and met the kids, though, my first impression was, These kids could be my brothers and sisters from 10 years ago. I felt like I'd gone back in time to when I was a teenager myself, sitting in a circle with my siblings and parents in the living room for worship, my brother slouched in a chair staring at the floor because he really didn't want to be there, me silent and cringing because I thought God and my parents were put out with me for being so "bad."

When my chance came to speak, I told the kids about my life and how I came to know Christ at the age of 21. It was my first time giving my testimony, and no, they didn't fall under conviction and all give their hearts to the Lord. But I continued going in with the chaplain, and each time I relaxed more and talked more freely. My second time there, I left a copy of TESSA for a girl to read. She loved it and begged me to let her keep it, so I did.

A few weeks ago, I went in by myself for the first time. I was nervous that I would run out of things to say and make a fool of myself, so I did a lot of praying ahead of time, and asked others to pray as well.

The first thing I did that morning was read the kids Chapter 14 of my book (where Tessa decides to run away again, gathers all her stuff to leave, and then can't find the car key). I then went on to read from the Bible and talk about other things. When I was done, one of the kids asked to see my book so he could read the back cover. That turned into passing it around, which turned into all 4 of them wanting a copy, which turned into an animated conversation (which was really fun). In the end, I  agreed to donate a copy to the library  so they could all read it. That met with approval, so they passed the book back for me to sign. One boy, who had been rather bored by the rest of the meeting, wanted the book passed back to him once it was signed, declaring, "I'm gonna read it first!"

After the meeting, one girl wanted to talk with me. She explained that she desperately needed her own copy because the story paralleled her life and she "knew" it would help her remember why she needed to make good choices and not end up in the detention center again. I figured she might be pulling my leg, but after some discussion I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. So I told her I had written into the story the things I learned in overcoming my own problems. Because of this, I believed if she read the book and engaged with the truth in it, she would be changed. I had only brought one copy in with me, so with the staff's approval, I went out through three locked doors, down the elevator, and out into the sub-zero parking lot to sign another book. That wasn't easy; the book was so cold the ink froze in the pen tip and it barely wrote. I then rode the elevator back up to the third floor and left the book for her.

It's going to take me some time to learn when I should say yes and when I should say no. The kids can be very persuasive! But until then, I'd rather err on the side of generosity. Kids (and adults) need someone to believe in them and make them feel special. In the end, maybe that's more important than any message in a book.