The Little Red Pencil

“I need to clean out that drawer in the spare bedroom.  It’s full of…no idea what all is in it.”

Mom uttered those words two months ago and for two long month’s I’ve been saying, “When are WE going to clean out that drawer in the spare bedroom??”

The answer was always “not today.”  And, sometimes “maybe tomorrow” was added as an after thought.

Tomorrow came yesterday.

The drawer was carefully lifted from the chest of drawers and carried out to the patio and placed on the picnic table.  It was full…heavy…loaded with a wide variety of…

For the next 4 hours, Daughter and I joined Mom on a short walk down memory lane as she touched things she’d not seen in years and read notes and cards she’d tucked away for another day.

The last thing Mom paused over was a small, clear plastic bag containing several small memo pads.  As she leafed through them, I began the task of returning things to the drawer.

The memo pads were travel journals dating back 20 years or more.  She read some excerpts and elaborated for us.

And, then, she leaned over and looked down between her knees (she was seated at the picnic table, on the bench) as though searching for something.

“What are you looking for?” I asked.

“My little red pencil,” she said. “It fell and I can’t find it.”

A little red pencil…I’d not seen a little red pencil.  I looked at Daughter who sat across the table from her – she shrugged and shook her head.  Apparently she’d not seen one either.

I leaned over and looked down between the edge of the picnic table and the bench.  No red pencil there.  I stooped and looked under the bench upon which she sat.

“Are you certain you had a little red pencil? I asked Mom.

The look she gave me was indication enough that there was indeed a little red pencil somewhere and I’d better get on my hands and knees and find it.

To my knees I dropped and under the bench I crawled.  I questioned the existence of the little red pencil.  I’d not seen it.  She insisted it had fallen to the patio below her.  So, why wasn’t I seeing it??  The obvious reason came to mind and I asked again.

“Are you certain you had a little red pencil? Today? Right here? A little red pencil??”

And, the reply I received was “YES!”

I didn’t see one and I said so.

Then she said, “It’s tiny.  It’s a tiny, little red pencil with lead and it writes.”

A tiny little red pencil with lead…. Tiny red….

I adjusted my vision from macro to micro and began to look for the red needle in the haystack, so to speak.

And, there (THERE!) in the joint joining two sections of concrete partially hidden by a crumbled leaf was a TINY fleck of red.

I brushed the leaf away and there lay a perfect “tiny little red pencil with lead” – about two inches long and the width of a toothpick.

To see what was missing I had to adjust my vision and look for the unseen.  I had to see the possibilities. And, I had to accept what I thought impossible as…possible. Focus had to be centered.  I had to get down to the nitty-gritty.  I had to believe in what I could not see.

So great was my mother’s belief in the unseen that I could not help but believe myself – even if only for her sake, even when I was a skeptic, even when I thought it impossible.  Just because I didn’t see the little red pencil didn’t negate its existence.

It was there.  I just had to look until I found it.

We all have something we’re searching for – a tiny little red pencil of a thing that we’ve heard of, read about, hope for, need desperately to find.  That little red pencil is there – don’t give up the search.

Faith – the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Imperfect

I am an imperfect person.

That’s not an excuse. It’s a fact.

No matter how hard I try or how good my intentions, I simply cannot live a perfect life or do things perfectly.

I fail.

Miserably.

It seems the harder I try the more imperfect I become.

(Sigh….)

Of course, it’s my failings and failures that call attention to and blatantly proclaim my inabilities…shortsightedness…selfishness…all the while my pride screams “cover up!” and seeks to do just that.

Put on a righteous facade. Point fingers at others (remember there are three pointing back at me).  Blame another.  Call attention to the shortcomings of…and wag my head…bad mouth…gossip…compare….

And, all the while it’s me, me, ME who plays the game, knows the shame, bears the blame….

Cursing, cursed wretch that I am…hypocrite.

I know who I am.  I am greeted daily by this fact each morning when I awaken, with every choice made, with each flash of emotion and flicker of conscience.

Enter God’s grace in the person Jesus.

Ah, there is hope for this wretched human.

And, there is hope for you as well.

Mammoth Cave

Daughter and I planned a day trip to Kentucky – and the wonder of Mammoth Cave.

Or, perhaps I should say wonders.

If you’ve never been to Mammoth Cave, take a moment and look at a few pictures.

Mammoth Cave is…mammoth…huge…ginormous.

Daughter had never been underground. She’d been in a cave…basically a hole in a rock,  and, in a root cellar under a house.  But, she’d never been underground, in a cave…like…in Mammoth Cave hundreds of feet underground.

My fourth trip – her first.

Grand Avenue Tour – that’s the one I’d hoped we would take – is a 4 mile walk that takes 4 hours to complete and apparently only operates in the summer.  Now that it’s Autumn on the park’s schedule of events, the longest tour available was the Historic Tour at 2 hours,  2 miles and over 400 steps.

That’s “steps” as in steps up or steps down…staircase type steps.

You know…what goes down must come back up if it’s to see the light of day again. Our guides (Mike and Dave) mentioned that repeated before we entered the cave.

Yes, guides.   We took TWO tours.

As I mentioned, the longest tour available was the Historic Tour which began at 10 a.m. and ended at 12:15.  This gave us time to visit the restroom (no restrooms underground – we were told that repeatedly before entering the cave’s entrance, too), eat a quick bite of lunch, purchase a ticket and make it out to where we would hop a bus for the 3 mile ride to where the Domes and Dripstones tour began at 12:45. (A two hour tour with a 3/4 mile walk that felt every bit as long as the 2 mile walk and had 500 steps.)

My favorite tour was the Domes and Dripstones.  I was hooked the moment we slipped through the narrow entrance and left daylight behind.  I was in love as I began the descent down narrow steps that followed a crack in the rock.  Down, down, down the shaft we went into the darkness, punctuated here and there by soft lights.

As my eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, I saw more and more.  At first, off balance, I began to use more of my senses than just my sight to right myself and find balance in the strange world I had entered.  At times I staggered and reeled like a drunk – my mind and my feet in a disconnect because my lack of sight provided no information to either.  Vision – nearsighted or farsighted – is a blessing.

“Don’t touch the rock!” Rang out time and again as we were reminded to keep our hands off the ceiling and walls of the cave.  The need to steady one’s self was strong and it was difficult to rely only on self for balance.  The rock was steady…unmovable…dependable.  I know – I bounced off of enough of it.

The air in the cave at 350 feet beneath the surface was damp and musty with an earthy scent.  And, it was cool – around 55 degrees the guide said.  My light jacket felt good.

As I stumbled around on the path, I remembered doing the same thing in the same place as a child…a teenager.  It was good to know some things had not changed, even there, deep within the earth.  I had grown and changed, but the cave had remained constant in the 40 years since my last visit.

At the deepest point in our journey, the guide had us all sit down and once we were seated he turned off the lights.  We were plunged into total darkness.  Everything was black.  BLACK.  There was no light.  There were no shadows.  I couldn’t tell if my eyes were open.  I could hear and I could smell and I could feel.  But, I could not see.

In the darkness, I felt an odd sense of panic rise within me and sensed it within others as well.  After what felt like several minutes of darkness, a child began to whimper.  A woman exclaimed, “I can’t even see my hand in front of my face!” Another called the name of a child and when he answered said, “Stay there!”  Nervous voices revealed discomfort with the darkness…in the darkness.  Creatures of light, designed to see, unnerved by the degree of blindness and the loss of balance experienced…we were frightened.

“What if he can’t find the light switch again, Mommy?” a small child asked.  I allowed my mind to play a short reel of what would happen if….

Of course, most of us had cell phones with us so….  But, it was mind opening to think what it would be like to be without light…without sight.  And, how the body and mind must regroup and rely on other senses to even stand upright.

The guide flicked his Bic lighter and the small orange flame lit the chamber in which we sat.  Shadows danced and played along the walls and we marveled at the ability to see and the difference the tiny flame made.  All eyes were fixated on the flame.  And, then the guide flicked it off.  Again we were immersed in darkness.  My eyes craved the light and I found myself looking around for anything that my eyes could capture but there was not the faintest glimmer of anything.

The guide clicked on his flashlight.  My attention was drawn immediately to the light and I saw that he had turned his back to us.  Had he not done so before turning on his bright beam we would have been blinded by the light.  With a quick side step and a push of a button, dim lights lit the room and faintly dotted the path ahead of us.

The way out was plain to see and we rose in unison to follow the light.

Upon standing I found myself quite dizzy and unable to find my balance.  I stumbled and careened first one way and then another as I attempted to center myself, find footing on the uneven ground and leave the darkness behind.  I felt disconnected, disjointed, unsteady – there was an illusion of motion…I had sea legs 350 feet underground.

From that lowest point onward, everything was UP.

Up hill, up steps, up stairs….

And, when we walked around a bend in the trail and felt a sudden warmth in the air and in the next step or two saw daylight ahead, I was instantly saddened.  Our tour was over and I had no choice but to face the light and enter the real world that awaited me.

But, I took a part of my cave experience with me.  I buried it deep within where darkness resides.  I can’t see it, but I can feel the cold dampness of it.  And, I can wonder at the otherworldlyness of it all.   And, I can remember that I am a creature of the light and sight is my life.  Darkness has its place, but only to reveal my need of the Light.

Autumn Falls

This year the Autumnal Equinox falls on Tuesday, September 23 (2014) UTC.  That’s Monday, September 22 at 9:29 PM CT.

For over a week, I’ve marveled at the growing shadows as the sun slips lower in the sky with Earth’s Autumn attitude growing more each day.

Crisp, cool mornings have graced us and reminded us that Summer has gathered her floral skirts and departed.

Fall is upon us and will soon cover us with brilliant throws and carpeted lawns, freeing us from Summer’s chores.

I sense my mind changing gears – from Summer’s greens to Autumn’s golden hues – from hot and humid to cool and breezy – from picking, pickling and processing the garden to plucking it up and turning it under….

Outward focused for many months,  I now find myself looking within.  Within my house to see what needs to be done to prepare for cold Winter days.  Within myself to unclutter my life and my surroundings.  Within my life to cull that which hinders and to prune that which is no longer productive.

Busy, over packed Summer months with their long sun-filled days offered opportunity to stretch myself to near breaking.  Now, Autumn begins the task of closing out and shutting down, calming and settling, bringing an end to the maddening pace Summer’s long days encouraged.

I greet Autumn open faced and open handed.  With a backward glance at what was Summer’s blush, I step fully into what falls to me as Autumn showers me with a renewed sense of being and the promise of becoming more fully who I am.

Days are growing shorter.  The long nights are coming.  I’ve had long Summer months to prepare.  Did I do enough?  Did I learn enough?  Have I prepared enough?

One thing I know – I did not take enough time to relax and enjoy…enjoy the flowers outside my kitchen door, the hummingbirds at the 4 o’clocks, the Goldfinches on the Zinnias, the wonders in the garden, the miracle of growth, the grasshoppers and the stinkbugs and all their intricate parts working in harmony, the cries of the cicada or the call of the WhipporWill, the cool breeze on my sweaty face, the green of the grass or the earthworm drummed up by my digging.

Take time to smell the roses – I did that once or twice.  The memory of their scent lingers still…I wish I’d slowed my pace and quietened my activities and spent more time seeing and smelling and enjoying and less time doing, doing, doing.

Autumn is fleeting.  Too soon Winter’s blast will drive me indoors, halt the roses’ bloom and freeze colors to dull brownish black.

What can I do today that will open wide the door Autumn offers me – the door to opportunity, to productivity, to joy-filled living, to insight, to clarity, to the appreciation of beauty in the world around me?

Autumn falls upon us without preference or prejudice.  It is what it is and glories in all that it offers.  I don’t know about you, but I’m going to slice off a big chunk just for myself and squeeze all the good out of every day for the next three months!

And, I’m going to celebrate the departure of Summer and the arrival of Fall by taking a 15 minute break right now…pouring myself a steaming cup of black coffee…sitting in the sun on my back porch…enjoying what is.  I owe that to myself…to Summer’s pleasures and Autumn’s promise.

Excuse me while I turn off, unplug, and step outside to become a part of the change that’s taking place around me.

Happy Autumnal Equinox. 😉

9/11

13 years ago today we were attacked on our own soil in a horrific, unprovoked series of tragic events that took the lives of thousands of our brothers and sisters in the blink of an eye.

Pause to remember

  • what was
  • what happened
  • why it happened
  • where you were
  • how you felt
  • who you were
  • what it was like.

Think, now, about what has changed – and why – and how it has impacted your life.

Reflect, also, on what has not changed.

Linger yet a few more moments and acknowledge

  • what is
  • what’s happening
  • why it is happening
  • where you are
  • how you feel
  • who you are
  • what it is like.

Those of us born pre 9/11 knew a world unlike that of post 9/11.  Or, thought we did.  We lived a dream…a surreal world that existed only in our imaginations and naivete.  Bubble dwellers, we thought ourselves insulated from the cold hard facts of life as others live it day to day to day.

The title U.S. Citizen brought security and a sense of entitlement. We wrapped God, country and the flag around ourselves and dared anyone to pierce our defenses.

We were laid bare…struck to the heart…sent reeling.  “How could this happen to US?” we asked.  And, we began to experience the age old fear people the world over have felt.

Welcome to the real world.

Now, the question is – how do we begin to make the real world a safer place and empower children and grandchildren to find their places in it and live securely and at peace together?

A Foggy Morn’s Clear View

Tuesday dawned darker than usual.  The sun that usually awakens me didn’t and I rose 30 minutes later than I’m accustomed to doing.

At 6:44 a.m., I opened our front door and looked out on our world and…blinked. Then, I felt to see if my glasses were on my face and finding them astride my nose, removed them to see if they needed cleaning.

Surely they needed cleaning.

With or without glasses, the view before me was fuzzy, dark, and monochromatic.  A confusing swirl of muted images blanketed the landscape.

Fog!

The first fog of the season.

My mind whispered, “That’s one snowfall this Winter.”  I quickly shushed her and reminded her this is now September…August is 9 days past.

I quietly slipped out the door and into the fog.  My exposed skin tingled as the cool airborne water droplets clung to me.  I breathed the cool moist morning air in deeply and held it.  Then, I breathed it out with a whispered “Aaahhhhhh.”

The warm moist air from my lungs met the cool fog and swirled together before blending.

I wanted to linger in the quiet dampness and allow it to blanket me with calm.  But, life called and I had no choice but to answer.

Droplets dripped from my hair as I emerged from the fog.

Some small part of me had been renewed…transformed by my foggy experience.  What had begun as confusion morphed into an odd ethereal calmness that encompassed me, enveloped me…entered me.

Centered me.

As my early morning progressed, my mind returned time and again to the fog and my experience with it. I found myself gazing out every window, lost in foggy wonder.

.At 8:30, I paused as I passed  the window in my office.  The okra growing 20 feet from my back door had become visible.  As I watched, the fog continued to lift and the tree at the back of our yard slowly appeared. Houses and cars , trashcans and mailboxes all became visible as I watched.

The fog was lifting as though called upward by some unheard voice that gathered it gently in a hazy cloud…up, up, up.

By 9 a.m. the fog was little more than a thin veil over the sun.  Dew drops dripped from every leaf and blade of grass.

By 9:30 the sun had broken the foggy veil into puffy low clouds that soon evaporated.

As the day progressed, the fog evaporated leaving only the memory of it.

…memory and the reminder to slow down and take time to live…to see, to touch and to be touched.

Take a moment right now and focus on something beyond yourself, something simple that you see every day and never notice.  Step outside and open yourself to the wonders of nature.  Let God’s peace touch you…calm you…change you.

Who would have ever thought a foggy morning would have the power to clear one’s vision?

Following the Follower

As a child, I played Follow the Leader.

It’s a simple game.  A leader is selected and everyone follows her/him, going wherever and doing whatever the leader does.

The leader, when tired of the game, would simply stop leading and become a follower. We wouldn’t realize we were following a follower until our forward motion stagnated, our movement became circular, or stopped all together.

Following a leader who no longer wants to lead is similar to following a leader who has no idea where he/she is going, what she/he’s doing or why.

I saw a good example of this yesterday.  The dogs had been turned out with the command “get the monster.” The larger of the two shot off the porch as though he had quarry in sight, barking his excitement as he ran.  His smaller companion was hot on his heels, assuming he knew what he was doing and where the monster was.  She was silent until they reached mid yard.

Once there, she opened her mouth and yapped.  The larger dog, upon realizing he had no clue where the monster was, stopped leading and turned to follow the smaller dog.  The smaller dog shot past him, continuing in the direction he had initially lead.  He followed in her wake. She seeing that he had turned, circled around to follow him.

They ultimately stopped and faced each other in confusion.  Then, each went his/her own way.

I couldn’t help but laugh – at them and at myself as well.

I asked myself two questions: Who are you following? And, why?

What about you? Are you following a follower?

Maybe it’s time to strike off on your own and hunt your own monsters in your own way.  If others want to follow along, that’s okay. If they want to tag you as their leader, consider declining the offer and suggest instead that they be responsible for their own journey so you can focus on yours.

It’s been my experience that most people don’t really want a leader.  They want to imitate and follow after someone, but they really aren’t interested in changing anything, going anywhere or doing anything of and for themselves.

And, that’s what a leader does.

A leader brings you to the point of decision and then it’s your responsibility to act.

Most people don’t want the responsibility, they just want to follow.  Leaders have their own agenda.  Leaders don’t follow the whims or desires of followers. Their energy is forward focused – on reaching the goal. They live outside of and beyond a comfort zone, ever reaching for, ever learning of, ever experiencing new things. Fearlessly focused, determinedly independent, decidedly resolute.

If you choose to follow, it’s your responsibility to keep up.  Don’t complain about the pace, the ruggedness of the terrain, the length of the journey, the focus of the leader.  And, don’t whine about going beyond your comfort zone.

Who are you following and why? More likely than not when you choose to follow, you’re not following a leader.  You’re following a follower.

Following a follower requires little work on anyone’s part.  There’s a lot of activity. But, no one goes anywhere or does anything.  You just act like it. You meet.  You talk. You make plans. You act. You enjoy the journey. But, you don’t get anywhere.  Nothing really changes.

You’re all just followers, following other followers.

And, should a leader come into the midst with the power to lead into real change? Ah, he/she had better look out.  Frustration and discouragement are just around the next turn. Followers of followers are prone to bog a leader down with questions and a “need” for information and details….  Followers of followers are notorious for maintenance of the status quo and devotion to their comfort zones.

Lead on, Brother. Lead on, Sister. Let the followers follow themselves. And, when they wake up one morning and wonder why they are still where they were 30 years ago and why you didn’t hang around and help them, let God be their judge.

Who are you following?  Who among you is trying to lead? Watch out. That leader is going places – with you or without you.  That’s what leaders do.

Why? Because leaders have things to do, agendas, plans, dreams, hopes. They see what is and believe in what can be.

Followers of followers never go anywhere

Follow the leader and see the world as you’ve never seen it before. (Move beyond your comfort zone.)

Or, take the lead and cut a new trail.

Mewling Revisited

The yowling banshee, orphaned and rescued last week, has become a quiet purr box. His loud mewling cries (unlike any kitten cries I’d ever heard) have been replaced by kitty whispers.

Every four hours, he is prompted to eliminate (young kittens can’t pee or poop without help) and then fed kitten formula from a tiny baby bottle.

Daughter noticed one of his back feet was swollen, so off to the vet she headed with him in tow yesterday.  A round of antibiotics, a dose of worm medicine and a rectal temperature check made for one angry kitten.

Can’t say that I blame him.  The vet confirmed that he’s only 3 weeks old but could only with reasonable assurance confirm that he’s he and not she.

So far, his life experience has been a hard one.  Too small to fight back (though he does try), tiny claws and no teeth to speak of – his only defense is his piteous mewing.

Poor baby.  Who can blame him?

Feed him. Pet him. Warm him. Cuddle him. The reward is a happy purr box wrapped in soft, gray fuzz blinking up at you with blue kitten eyes.

It’s hard not to become attached.  When you take care of something, you become attached to it…feel a responsibility for it…dare I say “love it”? Daughter’s heart has warmed toward him and I gently remind her that he can’t stay with us.

We are fostering him – loving and caring for him and giving him all he needs until he’s adopted by a loving family that will take him in and make him a part of them.

I’m counting down – he’s 3 weeks, going on 4. At 6 to 8 weeks he will be weaned and on solid food. Health issues will be corrected and he should be one healthy, happy kitten.

We can’t keep him.  I repeat this mantra several times daily.

Not so much for myself.  No, I’ve reached the age where my heart has hardened around the edges and I’m no longer the sucker I was for a cute fuzzy face or a mewling cry. I know there are others (somewhere) who can give more than I. Though concerned for his welfare, I don’t feel responsible for going beyond the initial, immediate, necessary steps of preserving life and getting him off to a good start.

I chose life for the kitten. But, I don’t want a cat as a pet – indoors or out. It’s a responsibility I don’t want or need at this stage of my life. My house is too small, my heart too full, my hands too busy with life as I live it.

And, so, we are looking for a home for this cute little guy…. It can’t be just any home, of course.  It must be a family that will take him and love him and keep him safe. He’s a special kitty that’s overcoming odds and hardships. He deserves a special family who can appreciate his whispered mews and desire to cuddle.

So far, we have three people interested.  Of course, I’ve found a reason to question the ability of all three to raise him and care for him properly. One wants to place him outside immediately. The second wants to have him de-clawed and keep him indoors, maybe. And, the third is newly married and what she really wants is a baby, but they aren’t ready for one yet.

There’s still time.  The right family will come along.

Repeat after me. We can’t keep him…we can’t keep him…we can’t keep him….

What You Have Chosen

“What you want is irrelevant.  What you have chosen is at hand.” *

Stop for a moment and consider – the life we live is a result of choices made, and the consequences of those choices are obvious. Just look around you.

We often blame others when life doesn’t go the direction we want and point to the choices they made and the consequences that overflowed into our own lives.

But was it not our own choices that placed these “others” in a position to do so?

Look around you.

Is this what you want?

Apparently, this IS what you want because you’ve not chosen otherwise.

The choices you and I have made largely determine where we are right now.

Look around. What you’ve chosen is at hand.

Blame it on

  • poor planning
  • settling for
  • giving in
  • taking shortcuts
  • shortsightedness
  • lack of focus
  • disorganization
  • giving control to another
  • giving up
  • being undisciplined
  • a lack of self-esteem
  • disinformation
  • lack of education
  • co-dependency
  • desire for instant gratification
  • lack of self awareness
  • the whims of others
  • unhealthy eating
  • laziness
  • lack of space
  • the economy
  • your past
  • an addiction
  • illness
  • misfortune

And, know this – when you place blame anywhere other than where it belongs (squarely on your own shoulders) you’ve made the choice to continue as you are.

So, apparently, this IS what you want because what you’ve chosen is at hand.

What simple choice can you make that will, in some small way, create change?

Beginning small can embolden you to make larger, deeper, grander choices that can launch you into who you want to be and where, and into the life you wish to live.

Look around you. What one small choice will you make right now that will address what you want and bring change to what is at hand?

————————-

* As any diehard Star Trek fan knows, this quote is from Spock to Valeris in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Labor Day

I’ve never really understood the purpose of Labor Day.

I thought a visit to the US Department of Labor website would help.  But, the “what it really means section” wasn’t much help.

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. (Read more.)

It’s a Federal Holiday and a State Holiday – no mail and no banking, unless you work online and if that’s the case the mail runs 24/7 and the bank is always open. 😉

It’s a three day weekend and here in the US many people take advantage of the opportunity and slip away for a final summer fling.

Maybe that’s the real purpose of it now – an opportunity to say “goodbye” to Summer and shift gears as we transition from the easy going months of fun in the sun to the hard, gritty, cold reality of life as we live it the other 9 months of the year.

Or, maybe it’s a harbinger of what’s to come…Fall Harvest, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Celebration!

An end, or a beginning.  I guess it’s all in the way you look at it.

Either way, for many it’s a day away from the office and an opportunity to catch up on work at home or elsewhere.

I suppose, from the looks of my to-do list, Labor Day is the best name for it!