Deep Freeze

We have a refrigerator with ice and water in the door.  Fancy pants, I hear you say.  Keep in mind this is the only one we’ve ever had like this.  We can have:  water, crushed ice or cubed ice that looks suspiciously like crushed ice.  It’s handy, especially since I like my water – and I drink a lot of it – icy.

Lately, though, the ice maker has been on the fritz.  It still makes cubed ice; you have to reach in the storage box to get it out manually.  But the crushed ice…well, it’s been a little too productive lately.  A hoary frost forms on the outside of the ice storage container inside the freezer.  A lip of ice covers the inside of the ice dispenser.  The dispenser itself gets clogged with mini icebergs. 

Jonathon says it’s because the fridge door hasn’t been closing all the way and so the ice maker tries to compensate by being colder. He’s probably right.  I try to avoid chemistry thoughts or problems as much as possible.  They make me queasy.  Exothermic or endothermic reaction?  I never did memorize the periodic table.

Once every other day, I dig into the freezer.  I grit my teeth, steeling myself for frozen fingers. I unclog the ice storage box, where the ice pours down into the dispenser.  Ice chips clatter to the floor.  I dig out the inside dispenser with a wooden spoon.  It’s snowing in my kitchen!  I catch most of the wayward ice with a bowl, but some inevitably lands on the floor.  I sweep up the rapidly melting bits and wipe up the moisture.  My floor is VERY clean right in front of the fridge.  You could probably eat off of it.  I wouldn’t suggest it, however.

I’ve been reading in I Kings and Chronicles on the Bible reading plan lately.  Hezekiah has been the featured king. He reopened the Temple, which his father, King Ahaz, had closed.  At this point in time, the kingdom was divided.  Hezekiah ruled Judah.  2 Chronicles 29 says “he did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestor David had done” (2 Chr. 29:2).  He invited the people of Israel and Judah to celebrate Passover.  The entire Levite ministry and priesthood was reestablished. He was off to a good start.

I think 2 Chronicles 32 shows a different side of this religious reformer.  In verse 24, the account says Hezekiah became deathly ill.  The Lord healed a deadly disease in his feet (2 Kings 20).  He cried out to God and the Lord asked him what kind of sign he would like to show he would be healed – have the sun go forwards on the sundial, or backwards?  Hezekiah chose backwards.  Ta-da!  God did it.  But…this narrative in Chronicles says “Hezekiah did not respond appropriately to the kindness shown him, and he became proud.  So the Lord’s anger came against him and against Judah and Jerusalem” (2 Chr. 32:25).  Ouch!  And later on in this chapter, it briefly describes a visit from Babylonian envoys that God used to test what was in Hezekiah’s heart (32:31).  Later, they could come back and conquer the land, taking captives the most beautiful women and noble sons. 

Hezekiah was proud.  Sure, he did all the right things.  He was able to get God’s favor and win the people’s loyalty.  Yet at the end of the day, his heart wasn’t in it.  He got puffed up.  “Look what God did for me!  I must be pretty special!  Not only am I king, I’m the favorite.” The 2 Chronicles report said “God withdrew from Hezekiah to see what was in his heart”.  I should also mention that Hezekiah’s illness happened right on the heels of a miraculous military victory against Assyria.  It seemed tailor-made to discourage him.  And it did.  When Isaiah told him the Lord said he would die, the Bible says he “turned his face to the wall and prayed to God”, saying in essence, Remember me, God!  I’ve always been faithful to you. He felt sorry for himself.

There’s no denying that Hezekiah was faithful.  He did follow God’s laws.  And God heard his prayer.  Isaiah had to turn right around and tell Hezekiah he would live.  Isaiah directed Hezekiah’s servants to make an ointment from figs and apply it to the boil. He tells Hez he will go to the Temple in 3 days.  But Hezekiah, skeptical and newly wrenched from death’s door, wants a sign.  The sun’s shadow moved back 10 steps backward to show God’s faithfulness.

This is the miracle that Hezekiah didn’t appreciate.  According to the Lord, King Hezekiah’s reign was finished; he was supposed to die of that disease.  But God added 15 more years to his life and rescued him from Assyrian attack.  Instead of realizing his incredible frailty, Hezekiah, puffed up by Babylonian flattery, shows the envoys everything – all the royal treasures (2 Kings 20:15).  Isaiah pronounces the doom of Judah. 

Hezekiah, far from being humbled by the impending invasion, thinks “At least there will be peace and security in my lifetime” (2 Kings 20:19).

He froze God out.  He didn’t need God anymore.  “Thank you very much, El Shaddai, for saving my country and my life.  I’m good now.  I’m moving up in the world and making friends!  See how important I am.  I don’t need you.  I’m sophisticated and wealthy.”

Don’t we do the same?  I don’t need to be childlike anymore. I’m a modern woman. I have money in the bank.  I have a (relative) amount of intelligence.  I can handle this life just fine, thanks.  I’ll go to church and pay my tithe and serve, but I don’t need any Divine Intervention.  I can figure it out on my own. “Got-ta do it my way…”

We have to be careful.  God’s values are not the world’s values.  He could care less if we’re rich, popular, famous or beautiful.  He cares about our hearts.  The Bible says out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. It’s not enough to do the right things if our heart is somewhere else.  We need to keep our hearts clear of icy blockages. What are we speaking? Whom are we serving?

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Monday Miscellany

I’ve been running more lately.  Yesterday I ran 14 miles. Which means, of course, that I have less thinking juice today.  I feel okay physically, but my brain doesn’t work as well for whatever reason.  It’s annoying.  And somewhat scary, as I still have to drive, parent, pay bills, shop, etc. with running brain.

It’s akin to preggy brain but not as forgetful.  It doesn’t seem to have as much patience and seems to be on ‘low’ all day long.  Influxes of nutrients seem to help, especially protein, but not enough to entirely overcome the feeling of sluggishness.

All of that to say this might not be the most coherent blog.  Fair warning.

Sigh.

It probably doesn’t help that every single morning is cloudy and gray.  Oh sure, most of the time the clouds burn off by late afternoon.  It’s nice. If only the fog in my head would clear…

Some random facts:

The CDBG project goes out for bid August 28.  Hurrah!  EIght months ago, I started working on it.  Progress, let’s shake hands and be friends. Welcome to the team.

Jonathon’s been working for 2 months now at the Administrative Office of the Courts.  He’s still finding his place there, but so far, so good.  He’s got a steady income with benefits.  Woo hoo!

Spent a good part of the day teaching the kids that just because you don’t want to do something doesn’t mean you don’t have to do it.   Welcome to being a grownup, folks!  You kids want to grow up?  That’s it in a nutshell.  Yes, freedom, but also a slew of new bosses and obligations. No animals were harmed in this endeavor.

Now we’re onto the Olympics.  Try to keep up!

Anyone else bothered by the ageist quality of the  Olympic Games?  “She’s 39 years old.  Not sure if she can still hit the ball as hard or dig as deep as she used to…” “He’s a veteran of the Olympic Games.  This will be his last time at the games; he’s retiring…” I understand youth and enthusiasm and feeling immortal. Being young, strong and fast will be huge plusses for you in the Games. Those qualities probably got you on the team in the first place.

So…Michael Phelps is 27.  Nobody is saying he’s too old, but what in the world?  He didn’t even medal in the 400m IM. The serial medalist?  For real?!  There’s something to be said for a combination of wisdom and determination.  Phelps seems rudderless, despite tons of stamina and energy.  It’s got to be more than that.

And why is skeet shooting a sport?  To me, if you don’t get sweaty or out of breath doing it, it’s not a sport.  Can I get a witness?

Do you think gymnasts are so short because of all the pounding their bodies take – floor routines, vault, etc.?  There doesn’t seem to be much opportunity to use energy to grow taller. Just wondering.

Maybe my brain fog is a product of aging.  Maybe Michael Phelps suffers from it, too!

Nah.

Jonathon and I are enjoying watching the summer Olympics. We seem to enjoy the summer sports more versus the winter. Jonathon was a gymnast long ago. I…wasn’t.

We both admire the determination and dedication it takes to even get to be an Olympian. Hours and hours invested in workouts and drills and countless repetitions, continual focus, pain and suffering, possible rejection. We watched an Irish gymnast, the first ever from his country, Kieran something-or-0ther. He was pretty good. But he grew greater in my estimation when the announcer said he had raised all the money through bake sales and car washes to fund his training and trip. No corporate sponsors. He had also overcome numerous serious injuries – torn both Achilles tendons, one first and then the other. He suffered a concussion. He came back from all of that and more, despite being told he wouldn’t even be able to walk again.

His take on it? “I’m just glad to be here. This is the cherry on top of the sundae. I will do my best, but it’s in the judges hands.”

Made my heart glad. His teammates said he had a heart as big as Dublin itself. I believe it. That, to me, is the Olympic spirit.

Add another grownup to the roster.

Eeyore Complex

I confess. I have a pet peeve.  Okay, more than one, but this particular one really gets me.

I hate self-pity.  I hate it in myself and when I see it I try to eradicate it as quickly as possible.  I am seeing it a lot in my kids this summer. I read recently that self-pity is like a wet diaper.  It starts out all warm and cozy and just gets cold and stinky the longer you wear it. It’s rough to see when kids don this ugly wrap.  Adults are even worse.  It turns my stomach.  This is the Eeyore personality.  Remember Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh? You know the type. Yes, sometimes we get a raw deal.  People aren’t always kind. Life is not fair. Don’t you avoid this person like the plague?

Dictionary.com says self-pity is pity for oneself, especially a self-indulgent attitude concerning one’s own difficulties, hardships, etc.

Ouch.

Actual quotes from my kids:  “Mom, there’s nothing to do!”  “Nobody wants to play with me.”  “I’m bored!”

Yeah.  Been there, done that. 

It’s the middle of the summer.  Dead on, smack dab in the middle.  Noooo!

Anyway, I sent the kids to their rooms for various states of frustration/talking back/piteous moans about lack of interesting activities.

I gave myself a timeout, too.  Somebody’s gotta be the grownup!

And you know what? It worked. Sanity restored. We pushed the reset button.

It’s good to count our blessings and remember what we have.  We are learning to be content with little and with much. We’re teaching the kids the value of money and how to save.  We’ve had a lot of good times this summer, going to the park and hanging out with friends. We’re learning life lessons about kindness and patience. It’s not over yet, either.  More good times are coming.

I think of one of my personal heroes – Corrie ten Boom, who survived the Holocaust.  She overcame it by forgiving and not dwelling on the hardships.  While imprisoned, she found time to be grateful for fleas in her bunk because then she and her sister could host Bible studies.  The guards hated fleas and wouldn’t come into their room!

Life isn’t always rosy, even when the sun shines. If only our attitudes had handles on the sides, a wee lever to tilt up or down, adjusting to the atmosphere. Since it’s the only thing in life we *can* control, we better man the handle. We better change our diaper filled with smelly attitude. How do we do that? Start thinking about the good things, meditating on the beautiful, the lovely, the pure (Phil. 4:8). Start being thankful – voice it, write it down.  There’s always something. Our difficulties are nothing new – everyone has their own version, possibly tougher than ours. We don’t need to add to the self-indulgent attitude that characterizes so much of our society today.

There is hope.

Summertime

Not much to say today except…ahh…

This is the kind of day we wait 11 months for.  We don’t get a lot of golden days that are not too hot, not too cold.  But when we do, oh Sheltonites, we relish them. 

Driving home from work, I saw yet another bald eagle.  That makes 5 so far. I still get a thrill every time I see one.  I rolled down the windows and let the sea air blow over me.

This is better than dark chocolate.

And yes, I’m mixing art periods here.  “Porgy and Bess” came out long after Monet painted the above painting.  But the feelings they evoke are similar.

It’s sunny, slightly breezy and in the low 70s.  It’s summer without too much heat or humidity.  Perfection! 

Wrap it up, I’ll take it to go.

Got about 200 more of them?!

Sugarless

My ultimate nemesis.

Hi, my name is Susan and I love sweets.

Now you.  “Hi, Susan!”

There.

It’s out there, floating around now. I’m an addict.

I know I’m not alone.  I know you’re probably thinking, “What’s the big deal?” 

The big deal is that I’ve gotten convicted on it by God Himself.  At least for now, it’s time to give them up.  I’ve been using them like a drug.

We called Zac on some addictive-type behaviors the other day related to computers and video games.  He didn’t like it one bit.  But his behavior changed when he played too much. He became a different kid.  He seemed to lose any social skills he might have accrued over his 12 years.  He was mean and snarky. He got angry when questioned about how much of his allotted media time he’d used that day. He snuck in extra time after he went to bed, waking up groggy and ill-tempered. All he wanted was another “fix”.

All marks of addicts. 

And…back to me.  I’m not sneaking sweets.  I eat them in the open.  Heck, in college, my roommate and I tried going on a chocolate-only diet.  We lasted until lunch. I’m not bingeing on them, usually, but I have.to.have.them.  I love to bake but I try to bless others with the cookies or cakes I make because once I start eating them, it’s hard to stop.  I can’t seem to find “bottom” with them.  I do okay with dark chocolate – and I do keep it in the back of the cabinet –  but I find I eat that most often because I’m feeling out of control.  It’s a tranquilizer, a means to soothe myself.  I don’t think that’s what it’s supposed to be for.

I’m not one to label foods good or bad.  After my Weigh Down Workshop* experience, I think all foods are permissible.  I can’t tell you how many calories are in a Twinkie or a baby carrot.  Nor do I care.  The key is:  am I really hungry, or am I eating for other reasons?  I don’t hold to the premise that eating when you’re not hungry is making the food an idol per se, as Weigh Down teaches, but masking my feelings in order to survive is not dealing with the issue(s). 

Oh, I can exercise off the excess.  I have.  I’m not overweight, but perhaps a bit undertall, to quote Garfield.  I no longer want these items to control me. I’m willing to see what life is like beyond the cheesecake.

I know this will be difficult.  But my freedom in this area is something I feel compelled to pursue. What’s it like to eat dessert because you still have room for it and it sounds good?  I aim to find out!

I’m going to be eating more fruit when I have a sweet craving.  And I’ll be getting into the Bible more.  Using candy as a crutch is not edifying to Jesus. I need to let Him handle the tough things.  I’ve recently discovered that I can’t make anyone else happy. I can’t fix them and I certainly can’t eat any more frustration and anger, albeit with a “spoonful of sugar”. Just how much sweeter will life be when I really taste and see that the Lord is good? (Ps. 34:8)

* Weigh Down Workshop has some great tenets, such as seeking God when you’re emotionally hungry.  It also has some major theological issues. Unfortunately, it morphed into a cult. You can read all about it here.

The Help

What you should know is that on my father’s side, my great-great (great?)grandfather owned a plantation.  We had slaves.  My dad’s family is as old money WASPy as you can get. Related to William Bradford, a governor of the Plymouth colony, on both sides.  Not to mention Charlemagne, on my mom’s side.  But that’s another story.

Yes, I could be a Daughter of the American Revolution. My paternal grandmother dearly wanted me to join, if in name only.

I don’t care about any of that. 

Oh sure, if I’d been raised in Maryland, where I was born, I probably would’ve gone to private school in the Baltimore area. I might have had a coming-out party.  My grandfather had started calling me Susabeth, a conglomeration of my first name and my middle name, Elizabeth. I might’ve been in the Junior League. Is there a Senior League?  Just wondering.

No thanks.

I finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  It was made into a movie last summer, starring Emma Stone and Octavia Spencer, among others.  The book, as usual, was so much better.  Even though the book is fiction and set in 1963 Jackson, Mississsippi, I wonder how much has really changed since then.  The Help is  the story of a young woman, Skeeter,  who thinks it’s ironic that  even though black maids  raise the children of white families, they end up becoming just like their white, segregationalist parents. She cares about these women *and* desperately wants to be published, and decides to ask the maids to tell their side of the story. She gets the idea thinking about Mammy in Gone With the Wind.  Mammy serves the same family her whole life, taking it as her lot, happy to lay her life down to protect the family that’s sheltered her and put clothes on her back.  But that was a white woman’s perspective of a slave’s mindset.  It’s the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement and Skeeter knows she’s onto something. She convinces no one to fess up at first, but eventually enlists 12 separate house maids to share their histories with her. The terror of the maids being discovered as they tell their true stories to be published in a book is very real.  They fear losing their jobs, or possibly being physically harmed.

That very truth, told from the perspective of the lowliest, sets them free.  Some of them do lose their jobs. One of them almost gets beaten to death by her husband.  All of them find the truth starts a new conversation in their neck of the woods, one that continues until this very day.

In my own few visits to Maryland to visit my grandparents, the races are still very segregated. I especially noticed it at Johns Hopkins University restaurant. My great uncle, who attended there to get his law degree, was treating us. I don’t remember what I ordered. It was a grand room, replete with enormous crystal chandeliers and white tablecloths and their spawn, napkins. All the servers were black. All.

Now, I understand that people need to make a living. But it seemed to me that they were making a statement. “Black folks still need to take this menial jobs; it’s al they’re good for. The Old South lost the Civil War, but the South will rise again! And to prove it, we’re going to keep Negroes under our thumbs as much as we possibly can.” Throughout D.C., behind counters in every establishment, everyone was black.

The last time I was there, I was fifteen. I still remember feeling stumped and ashamed of us as a nation.

My grandmother had black maids. No, they didn’t live with her. They cooked and cleaned for her. She rang a bell to get them to attend her. She was the daughter of a millionaire, after all, and never really learned how to cook. Or wear jeans. That’s another story.

I’m not saying my grandparents were racist. But it was a different time, and a different culture. The thinking of certain generations never changed, despite the Civil Rights movement, horrific assassinations and all the marches. It doesn’t matter where we came from but how we treat one another.

We’re not there yet. Let the conversations continue.

The Beauty of Small Things

Ruby and I went to Walker Park today.  She went there last week with her VBS on a field trip and she was desperate to show me “all the baby crabs!” 

Walker Park is located on Hammersley Inlet.  It’s a lovely, shady park with a play structure, covered picnic/barbecue area,  a couple of bridges over a picturesque creek, and access to a small beach.  The beach is especially small when, like today, the tide is in.  We saw no crabs, much to Ruby’s disappointment. It’s especially ideal for dodging the heat on hot summer days. 

“Why is the water so high?” she sighed. I explained to her about tides and the moon – which to her mind I’m sure sounded like “Mom’s just making it up now.” 

We walked up and down the 50 feet of available shoreline. It’s all pebbles, shells, flotsam and jetsam.  It’s a great place to wade out with water shoes, but maybe on a day that feels less like fall (still rocking the fleece, people!) and more like summer. You can find live crabs and clams sitting in the calmish water. Today, on this blustery July morning, we had the whole beach – what there was of it – to ourselves.

As we crept along, our eyes glued to the ground, we made several exciting discoveries.  Ruby has an artist’s eye and she notices the shapes of things first. She found clam shells, some with the hinge still attached, the empty halves clinging together in hope.  Others were fragments.  We delicately toed crab legs, dismembered from their original bodies.  We talked about barnacles and how they grew. We found a dead jellyfish near the water’s edge.  Brave girl, she picked up the slimy mass with her bare hands. She discovered her first oyster shell.  She became enamored of scallop shells.

“They look like chips!” she exclaimed.  We don’t get out much.

She collected quite a pile of shells and fragments, shoving them into my left coat pocket.

I remembered something I learned last summer on our Rockaway getaway.  I collected a whole baggie filled with small rocks, shells and sea glass.  They spoke to me, in a way. Small things escape the ocean’s pounding.  They don’t get broken to bits, strewn everywhere like so much dumped garbage.  They remain intact.  Sure, the sea glass, smooth and translucent, became rounded from the ocean’s continual waves.  But the tiny mussels stayed whole.  The teeny scallop shells resembling Ruffles with Ridges kept their shape even underwater.

There’s a lesson here.  If you’re small,  you fly under the radar.  You survive in a way that bigger things can’t.  You float on the waves because you’re lighter, buoyed by the current.  Your smaller mass allows you to slip between the churned up rocks and debris more easily than larger items. You avoid getting crushed and ground to powder. There’s a beauty to that.

Being small in our world means being  humble.  It has nothing to do with physical size. Humility is a good thing. Being humble doesn’t meant you don’t dream big dreams, only that you don’t get puffed up about what you can or did do. The criticism or praise of others doesn’t morph you out of your original shape. Humility is knowing who you are and doing the best with it, not needing fanfare or accolades. You know where you fit in the universe.  There’s a beauty to that, too.