Friday, April 29, 2011

Ringing Bell's Best Gardening Tips for Dog Owners

This morning I’m putting the “Amen” ( I hope) on a writing project I’ve worked on for months. And like many of you, I’d like to do a little gardening this weekend. As I think about it, I feel selfish that I’ve not shared some of my best dog owner gardening tips gleaned from years of experience. So without further delay, here they are:

Who me?
Buy rocks. Lots of great, big rocks. Preferably, the six by six foot boulder side. Anything smaller is prone to redistribution or else mistaken for a comfy pillow. Creatively arrange your boulders throughout your garden to deter your dog from lying in your flowerbeds and or place around newly planted shrubs to prevent excavation. It only takes about two years for you to see the shrubs over the top of the boulders. Have a party and let friends and family inscribe noteworthy sayings on your garden boulders such as, “Dogs are the flowers in the garden of life,” and “Life is short, stop to pet the dogs along the way.”

Save on water. Don’t wash your face in the morning, because as you’re planting petunias, your dog will wash it for you.

Dogs provide ample fertilizer. After scooping, use it to grow an abundant harvest of prized flowers such as dandelion and crown vetch in the back of your property.

Cracked pots are good. When your dog drops you ceramic containers on your hard patio bricks, remember the cracks allow for absorption of more water.

Two dogs
Hanging baskets, hanging baskets, hanging baskets.

With dogs, there’s never a shortage of ornamentation in your botanical displays. Gnawed sticks, broken pottery, and split tennis balls provide interest in the garden.

Remember to install large sized shrubs, which provide much needed privacy when your dog demands such.

When planting in the garden a dog also shares, wear gloves…really, thick, plastic lined, almost galvanized steel gloves that are disposable.

Suggested flora: Kudzu, bamboo, English ivy, and privet. You will never be annoyed with your dog when you find them pulled up by the roots on the back door welcome mat.

a new planting location
Learn to make good use of the deep holes your dog will mine in your grounds. He’s only trying to help by preselecting your planting locations. Use them and save yourself hours of backbreaking toil. That new tea olive will look great in the middle of the walkway.

I hope these tips are helpful and let me know how they work for you. Here at One Ringing Bell, we’re all about making your life a little lighter.

The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it… (Psalm 24:1).

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On Making Someone's Day

the view from where I sit
Somewhere, I read an account by C.S.Lewis about his drawings when he was a boy. This is an approximation of what he said since I can’t again find the actual piece he wrote (If you can help me, I’d love it. I’ve googled until I’m goofy). He said that when he was a child, his friends were drawing pictures of rocket ships and that sort of thing, and he was at home drawing pictures of “dressed animals.”

My friends are out practicing medicine, playing competitive tennis, and taking on various lofty enterprises, but I’m here at home making up stories about kittens. I’ve sometimes wondered to what effect. Yet, the words inside of me cry out to be expressed.

Yesterday morning, I struggled whether to spend the time to do a Kitten Update. I’m staring at a screenplay deadline on Saturday and have lots of writing and editing to do every day this week. But I love writing the updates so much, I plunged ahead.

Later in the day, I received a message on Facebook from Beth, a woman I have recently come to know. She said about the update, “You made my day.”

What you need to know about Beth is that she has a sister who has a serious illness, a husband with several physical challenges, and a son who doctors have reported to be in a most dire situation. He needs a soon miracle. And yet with all that…

I. Made. Her. Day.

And with a kitten story.

If anybody is going to be making someone’s day, it seems it would be the other way around. Thank you, Beth.

A few years back, my husband was invited to preach at a family camp high in the mountains of Montana. After we arrived, someone posed the question to the group gathered there, “Why are you here?” After, I went back to my room, the Lord brought this verse to me: “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith”(Romans 1:11-12).

“…mutually encouraged by each other’s faith…” That’s what I experience daily here at One Ringing Bell.

I’m about to submerge again for many hours into a screenplay story that’s very close to my heart, but it will be years before there’s even a slight possibility any of you will see it on film. Meanwhile, thank you for letting me come into your day with my writing.

It’s such a blessing to be a small part of your lives. Thank you for being a big part of mine.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Kitten Caper, a One Ringing Bell News Update

RINGING BELL HEADQUARTERS – A shocking discovery rocked Headquarters last week as this reporter uncovered a deceptive practice here. Several Staff members knowingly participated in this scandalous matter and involved themselves in the cover-up.

In a previous post, Meet the Kittens, the tiny tots were introduced, and a claim was made as to their gender. Imagine how stunned this reporter was to discover Staff’s flagrant disregard for the truth. The fact is Staff had no idea what gender the kittens were at seven days old. Even trained professionals have trouble determining gender at this age.

As unbelievable as this seems, Staff assigned names to the innocent kittens simply based on the way their FACES looked.

A jarring revelation, indeed.

“This one looks sweet and fluffy, let’s name her Eloise,” Staff Member A was heard to say. (Names are being withheld pending legal action)

“This one looks rascally, let’s name him Carl,” another Staff Member said.

And so on, and so on.

This information was even withheld from close family members. “I’m shocked, just shocked,” the chocolate lab Aunt Lucy said when interviewed. “To think that our little ones were subjected to such misdoing is just…well….unthinkable.” Lucy wiped a tear and shuffled off to shred a stuffed turtle.

Now that the kittens are a month old, this reporter had them assessed by a certified Boy/Girl Determiner.

“This one’s a boy,” the Determiner said as she put Wilbur down.

“A girl,” she declared as Sara tumbled from his hand.

“Another boy,” she said  as Carl meowed loudly.

“This last one’s a…let me see here…yeah, she’s a girl.” Fluffy Eloise nestled in her fingers.

“You mean the Staff actually got them all right just by looking at their faces?” this reporter asked.

“It seems they did,” the certified Boy/Girl Determiner said.

It’s enough to make an investigative reporter turn in her credentials.

So as not to disturb the kittens and Belle, this investigation was kept under wraps. And since no names will have to be changed, all is well and everyone had a wonderful Easter.

Kittens have escaped the confines of their corrugated condo and have flown to the outer reaches of the office landscape. Now scaling sofa, chair, and ottoman, staff members are stretched keeping up with Belle’s busy offspring. But you can be sure, that this reporter will keep a close eye on things to insure the tuxedo and triplets we've come to adore are in good hands.



Best Friends Lucy and Belle

A Happy Bunch on Easter Sunday
I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. Psalm 50:12

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday, the Stations of the Cross

Today, walk with Jesus the whole long way from Gethsemene to Calvary.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all , like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)

Photos St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Fernanadina

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday

Christ Church, Frederica
The first Maundy Thursday service I ever attended many years ago was one my husband-to-be performed while he was still in seminary. I entered the service head muddled from a long day at work and sat down in a pew completely unaware of what was to happen.

A powerful service, but I think I was most affected by the last thing on the ritual -the stripping of the altar and chancel area. I watched as one by one the church was emptied of Bible, cross, candles, and vestments. I then sat staring into a blank wall. No Word of God to be my bread. No cross to life up my head. No candles to remind me of the Holy Spirit’s presence. No IHS on the vestments symbolizing the first three letters, iota-eta-sigma, of the Greek name of Jesus- something I’d seen almost weekly since a small child. Now, merely a building devoid of any reminders of its purpose except the altar.

And I, like probably other worshippers that evening, wondered what my life would be without Jesus. Empty, hollow, without meaning, on a lonely road trying to save myself. I’d figured out a few years before how catastrophic my own attempts at salvation were. I’d be back in Leviticus trying to remember all the rules, trying to get it all right. Failing.

I wanted to shout my thanks and praise to Jesus. Thank you for Gethsemane, thank you for Calvary, thank you for the empty tomb. Thank you, Jesus, for completing the work you were sent to do. Thank you for bearing your cross. Thank you for doing it for me. For the world.

Instead of shouting, though, I left quietly, remembering Him. But I knew on Easter morning, at first light, my praise would burst its bounds and I’d dance in adoration to the One who has saved me to the uttermost.

The one who bore all so that I could have life.

On this Maundy Thursday, remember with me the Last Supper, the washing of feet, and the singing of a hymn-the Great Hallel, Psalm 136, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.”

And give thanks for Jesus.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Thoughts on Suffering for Wednesday of Holy Week

Oswald Chambers often wrote about being “broken bread and poured out wine.” I don’t know how one could possibly be broken or poured out without suffering.

Suffering is a given in life this side of the fall. No way to escape what is inevitably loaded on the train headed in our direction. The question is, what are we going to do with the cargo once it arrives? The best thing we can do is allow God to use it to bless others. Flip it. Turn it upside down. As Joseph said to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done….” (Genesis 50:20).

Yesterday, I sadly finished a book I’ve been savoring and pondering, Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. In it, she mentions a brother in law who buried two of his young children due to a genetic disease. She quotes him saying, “The way through the pain is to reach out to others in theirs.” And she says, “I have known ache and becoming the blessing is what deeply blesses us and this is the way He binds up our wounds. Empty to fill.”

When the adolescent unloads an arsenal of piercing arrows into our hearts, can we remember those arrows are formed from internal pain and aimed at us because somewhere inside they know we of all the people in the world will not abandon them. Can we let the arrows shoot right through, and reach out to that place of deep hurt in them?

When the spouse seems to stop seeing us, can we continue to pour out love?

When our own childhood’s deep heartaches threaten to hold us prisoner for a lifetime, can we surrender the hurts to God and allow him to use us to loose the shackles of others?

When hands we’ve loved grow cold to this earth, can we release them to eternal love and not grow bitter in our grief?

St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Fernandina

Can we allow the crucified one to redeem every hurt so that we may be a blessing?

Can we bear our blessed suffering to prisons, homeless shelters, and our own families?

It’s something to pray about.

Just after I’d written the preceding words, my husband and I went to a midday communion service. Because, of our out of state location due to Jerry’s prostate cancer treatment, we went to a church other than our own.

After we were greeted, I asked tentatively if we could come to communion since we were not members of the denomination. “Everyone is invited to this table,” we were graciously told.

As I listened to the liturgy on this Wednesday of Holy Week, I heard these words, “…give us grace to accept the suffering in this life…”

Yes, grace to accept, and grace to allow God to use it to make us his instruments.

"Empty to Fill."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Thoughts on Fasting for Tuesday of Holy Week

Though I’ve long practiced the discipline of fasting, especially during Lent, let me say it doesn’t get any easier. “Oh,” I‘ve heard others say, “how hard is it to miss a few meals?”

There’s a difference between not eating and fasting. Engaged in thought about some project I’m working on, the clock hands can move to the afternoon hours and I never notice. But the minute I decide to fast a meal or meals, a barrage of reasons I shouldn’t start assaulting my brain.

“You might feel bad because of x health problem or y health problem.”

“You forgot to take your medicine and you need to eat to keep from getting sick.”

“You just want to draw attention to yourself.”

“Don’t do it today, do it tomorrow (of course tomorrow is so elusive).”

“Do you really think this makes a difference?”

In answer to that last question, the answer is yes, I think it makes a difference. I’ve seen God move through my times of fasting and prayer for others in ways which were beyond my ability to imagine. But, the biggest change is what fasting does in me.

Giving up my bread reminds me of what Jesus did. He denied his rights, his pleasure, and his very life so that I can have this extraordinary gift of eternal life, which begins even now. When my stomach rumbles, I can use that as a reminder to give thanks for what Jesus did. I can in some miniscule way partake in his suffering.

And fasting also helps to drive self-discipline in other areas of my life like “…taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:4)

If all these benefits, then why don’t I run to fasting?

Because it’s hard. Because I don’t like missing meals. And like all damaged by the fall, I’m-self centered. Fasting really works on my self-centeredness.

Jesus said, “…when you fast, and when you pray.” He didn’t seem to offer an option.

So, if for no other reason, I do it because I believe Jesus asked us to.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-when you see the naked, to clothe him and not to turn away from you own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here I am.” (Isaiah 58:6-9)

Monday, April 18, 2011

After All, A story for Monday of Holy Week

She’d never heard so much talk about one person before. You would’ve thought that no one in Nain had ever seen a traveling teacher. What was wrong with these people?

She’d even heard it said of him that he performed miracles, but her bunch was not known for truth-telling. As she saw a crowd began to gather, she decided to see for herself what all the commotion was about.

From her place in the back, she caught her first glimpse of the teacher, and thought how ordinary he seemed to be. He began to speak, and she hoped she wasn’t wasting her time, because it looked like today there would be no miracles, only a story. Well, since I’m already here, she thought. She strained forward to hear.

“There once were two sons. The younger of the two after receiving his share of the family inheritance wandered far from home and squandered all his money on wild living."

She wondered if this was a true story. If it was, she might have known this son. In fact she seemed to remember a young man, who came from an affluent family up near Tyre, who’d just come into a lot of money. She’d seen him several times then he just disappeared. The teacher continued.

“After this son’s money was completely gone he was reduced to having to feed pigs to earn money.”

She knew how that was. She felt like she was in the pig-feeding business herself.

“He found himself jealous of the pig’s food and decided to go back to his father to ask for forgiveness.”

She thought about how risky that seemed. The crowd gathered around him seemed to echo her reservations. Who could forgive such stupidity? He didn’t deserve to be forgiven. He didn’t deserve his father’s love. He’d made his bed; he’d have to lie in it just like the rest of them.

Who did he think he was?

To her astonishment the teacher said that the father did forgive him, not only forgave him but also gave a big party in his honor.

This was a fairy tale. What was the point? Was there really a father like that somewhere? As these thoughts raced through her mind, the teacher’s eyes lifted above the crowd and it seemed that just for a moment his eyes met hers. He was looking at her, no, seeing her, and seeing her as no one ever had before. Seeing that beneath the markings of what seemed to seal her place in life, there were sorrows and hurts beyond anyone else’s knowing. In his eyes, she saw compassion. She saw the same compassion she’d just heard about.

She didn’t know how a person’s life could change in just a few seconds of time, but it did. She left the crowd that day and cried all the way to the brothel she called home. As she fell across the scented sheets that covered her bed, she tried to remember the last time she cried.

As a young girl, she’d cried every night. She cried so much her eyes stayed swollen most of the time. Then she stopped. The attacks continued, but she stopped crying.

It wasn’t enough that her parents had died leaving her to the care of distant relatives. She had to suffer under the ultimate humiliation of being treated as no young girl should be treated. But there was no one to tell, no one to help, no place to go. She determined in her heart to survive. She willed it. One day it would all be different. One day a man would love her, hold her, and treat her with the affection that she longed for. She’d almost forgotten that her ticket to freedom had already been stolen: her innocence.

Who would want to marry her? No one, of course.

It was not ever something she intended or planned for, this life she had. But what was she to do? How was she to live without relatives, without any prospect of a husband? So she did it. She never felt a thing. She never allowed herself to feel.

For so long she’d felt dead inside, unable to trust, unable to love, unable to cry. But today, something happened. Today, when his eyes met hers there was hope for the first time in years.

She grabbed the box and started through the streets not even realizing how tightly she held it until she felt its sharp corners cutting into her flesh. She’d heard the teacher was at Simon’s house. She had to find this man some had said was the Christ. She didn’t even know if Simon would let her into the house. He was after all a Pharisee, and it was no secret who she was.

Good, she thought, there was someone she’d never seen at the door. With the box in hand, she slipped in, and then she saw Him. She never even stopped to think. She ran to him, dropped to His feet and wept so hard that her tears were a constant stream. She tried to wipe them away from his feet with her hair, and then she remembered the box. This box filled with all that she had of value, she removed its contents and emptied them on the feet of the only one who had ever shown her acceptance. Then she kissed those precious feet.

Through the sounds of her sobbing, she heard Him speak. “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

It was odd the way he said it, almost as if He knew what Simon was thinking.

“There were two debtors: one owing five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them could pay the debt so the moneylender canceled the debts of both. Which one of the debtors would love the moneylender more?”

“The one who owed him more, I guess,” Simon offered sounding reluctant.

Then Jesus was talking about her. “This woman has shown her love for me by washing my feet, kissing them, and pouring out her ointment. Her sins which were many are now forgiven.”

Her sins, her sins, were forgiven. Just like the foolish son. This was not a fairy tale. He was who He said He was. It was true. She had found him--the one who would love her and treat her with tenderness. Oh, who could have guessed this? Somehow, she could feel the shame, the disappointments, and the hard heart melting away.

Then He spoke again. “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.”

It seemed there was a miracle that day, after all.

"Leave her alone," Jesus replied,"It was intended, that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial." John 12:7

I humbly share this story received an Honorable Mention in the inspirational category for a Writer's Digest Annual Competition and also a second place for short story in a Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer's Competition.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Week Three with the Kittens, A Ringing Bell News Update

RINGING BELL HEADQUARTERS—Staff reports are glowing here as the kittens turned a big three weeks old today. The video cameras have been whirring at Headquarters, and we hope in the near future we'll be able to share the first video footage of the triplets and tuxedo you’ve come to know and love.

As the kittens have gotten older, and bigger, Belle has ramped up her vitamin intake, but still she grows a little weary from time to time.

"I finally got those kittens to sleep,” an exhausted Belle said earlier in the week as she curled up on the tea tray for a nap. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of being a mother, but now they’re getting a little rambunctious. I need a break. Must be the terrible threes (three weeks that is). Wilbur’s been trying to crawl out of the box all morning and the little fellow is only nineteen days old. Plus, Eloise and Carl are always fighting over milk faucets. “

Staff found themselves unprepared for Wilbur’s climbing escapade. The Ringing Bell Kitten Development Chart indicated climbing would not occur until after the third week. Obviously, Wilbur is advanced for his age. This event sent staff members scurrying to find padding to surround the kitten’s domicile in the event one of the tots topples over the edge.

Lucy babysat for a while one morning this week so Belle could take a stroll outside. “I can’t wait to get the little fellows out of this box and teach them a few herding maneuvers,” Lucy said then tumbled Wilbur, Carl, Eloise, and Sara over with her snout. “Why, we’re going to have a great time.”

In other news, the tabby Misty spotted a staff member packing for a woodland excursion and decided she’d accompany him, so she perched watchfully on a camo bag. When told she would not be making the trip, she fumed.

“Why not,” she said. “I’ve been stuck upstairs for almost two weeks, because of that Belle hogging the first floor.” When it was explained that this particular excursion would involve encounters with cat-eating alligators, the tabby became outraged. “Do you think there’s really any difference between an alligator attack and an assault by that wild-eyed, razor-clawed, crazy, tiger-mom Belle?” she asked. The staff member did have to admit that Belle could be ferocious, but held on to his prior decision that Misty couldn’t go. In protest, Misty barfed a fur ball into his duffel.

Isabelle has now changed her permanent mailing address to an upstairs bedroom. “I’m not going downstairs again until the entire place has been fumigated. She’s lived outside, you know. There’s no way of knowing what disgusting things she may have drug in. Meanwhile, I’m just trying to relax under all this pressure. I have a terribly challenging decision as my pedicurist is dropping by later and I can’t decide whether to do my nails in catnip coral or tuna fish tangerine.”

A mysterious event occurred last evening, which disturbed several residents. A loud yowl was heard in the side yard when Belle was out for her evening constitutional. Belle was tight lipped when she returned, and for a time, no one stepped forward to explain its origins. But eventually a person of interest was brought in who goes by the moniker,”Front Yard Grey.” During the interview, the staff discerned an uncanny physical resemblance to the triplets. “Do you have any children, sir?” they asked.

Front Yard Grey twirled a whisker. “Uh, do I need a lawyer?”

Lucy walked up about that time. “I didn’t want to say anything, but Belle told me all the father does is lie around under the house, too lazy to even catch a mouse. She spoke with him about it last evening. Of course, I told her not to worry, as long as Aunt Lucy has a home, those little fluffy offspring of hers would always have plenty of love and a roof over their heads .”

This reporter is much affected by the strong ties between Belle and Lucy.

Oh, we almost forgot, that world traveling octogenarian poodle, Charles Varnado, Esq., sent us a postcard from his new location at the beach. Inscribed on it was one question. “Got kittens?”

As we conclude this report, Belle meows unceasingly as she runs back and forth to the open door, apparently trying to call the kittens to follow her outside. It’s sure to be another eventful week at Headquarters.

And God said to Job, "Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? Do you count the months till they bear? Do you know the time they give birth? They crouch down and bring forth their young; their labor pains are ended. Their young thrive and grow storng..." (Job 39:1-4)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Clinging to Dogwoods

I know when the dogwood blossoms wane, other flowers will follow--purple iris, pink country roses, and blue hydrangeas. But still, I hold on. I’ve been painting, taking pictures. Loving every petal.

Especially dazzling this year, the trees escaped a late frost which often burns the flowers and leaves them rusty and wilted.

Today, they are resplendent with all that’s ab ovo (from the beginning). Like an egg, which holds the hope of starting anew, the dogwoods seem to whisper into the very wind the possibility of restoration and rebirth.

This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,

The morning light, the lily white, declare their maker’s praise.

This is my Father’s world: he shines in all that’s fair;

In the rustling grass I hear him pass; he speaks to me everywhere.

Maltbie D. Babcock

When I “hear him pass,” he says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25) And all in my life that’s broken, sickly, and anemic from this long, long winter rises to the cadence of his lilting message.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Here We Go

Tomorrow we begin counting down Jerry’s thirty-nine radiation treatments over the course of the next eight weeks. Thrown into the mix is a child’s high school graduation and all that entails. Oh, and I haven’t mentioned we’ll be maintaining households in two different states during this time due to the location of the treatment center. For the next fifty-six days, there’ll almost always be somebody in the family at the out-of-state treatment center as well as somebody here on the home front. We just haven’t figured out which combination of somebody’s that’s going to be quite yet.

Can you spell S-T-R-E-S-S?

Here’s the plan: We’re keeping our eyes on Jesus, making a few arrangements for the future, and mostly concerning ourselves with what’s happening today.

God has already shown himself mighty in providing unexpected resources for the jillion gallons of gas, which is going to be required for all the back and forth trips. Additionally God has orchestrated some divine appointments, because Jerry is going to be living in a condominium very near a man he knows from his hometown that’s also traveling to this location to have the same treatment. So, during the weeks someone cannot travel with Jerry, he has a friend going through the exact same thing. Some coincidence, right?

Just as I wrote in an earlier post (Rising Faith), we sense this is all so much bigger than Jerry and his treatment. Only God knows all that He wants to do through this time.

So, we’ve made a countdown calendar, and we’ll begin tomorrow peeling away those sheets at our house. With each one we pull away, we'll be praying for complete healing. We’re also be praying for so many others we know who are also undergoing treatment for cancer.

Our hearts are especially with those who are in an intense fight for life. The center where my husband will be receiving care treats many small children as well. Each time I’m there and witness the courage of these tiny ones, I’m amazed at their resiliency and endurance. And though I’d love to be able to encourage them, it usually winds up being the other way around.

With these things in mind, our hope is high.

Our faith is in Jesus.

Here we go.

I can do everything through Him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

…I am the Lord, who heals you. Exodus 15:26

Monday, April 11, 2011

Waiting to Call it a Fiasco

Window of John and Charles Wesley at Christ Chruch
In 1736, when James Edward Oglethorpe sailed again to Georgia, a colony he’d founded four years earlier, he brought along two brothers, John and Charles Wesley. Both ordained priests in the Church of England, John would minister in Savannah, and Charles would serve as Secretary for Indian Affairs and Chaplain in Frederica, a new settlement on St. Simons Isalnd.

It did not work out for Charles. He only stayed five months and then returned to England. John didn’t fare much better, for his preaching was not well received, so in only two years, he boarded a ship along with a few Moravians, to retreat across the Atlantic.

Both of the Wesley’s largely viewed their time in Georgia a failure.

And of the new settlement in Frederica? By 1758, most of the inhabitants had tired of overwhelming difficulties and moved on. A fire consumed much of what was left.

But the crossing to England turned out to be an eventful one for John. His Moravian traveling companions, deeply impressed him with their peace during a mighty storm.

Back in England, a few months later on May 24, 1738, he wrote, “In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate-Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; And an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

The tide turned. John Wesley and his "strangely warmed" heart would be used by God to change the course of history in winning untold numbers to the Lord and to start a movement which would circle the globe.

Charles would go on to pen thousands of hymns, many of which we still sing today.

I lately stood in Christ Church, Frederica and was impressed with the chruch's ministry, devotion to Christ and to the gospel. According to their website, “Worship has been continuous since 1736 in Christ Church Parish, established by English colonists at Frederica under General James Oglethorpe.”

Apparently, everyone didn’t pack up and leave the settlement on St. Simons. Let me do a little calculation here. Since Charles Wesley (along with John who sometimes joined him in preaching on the island) gathered a few people together at Frederica for the first services, worshippers have been gathering for 275 years. I checked my math. That’s right. 275 years.

When we take a long look back, we see that the perceived failures in Georgia were only temporary ones.

Good to remember, no, essential to remember.

I am often too quick to render a verdict on a situation, when God isn’t finished in other’s lives, or in my own life.

So, here I am, rethinking my perspective on a particular circumstance and asking God to give me His. I'm asking Him to help me delay my analysis and leave that up to Him. I'm allowing Him to have the last word. It's not over until He says it is.

I think the Wesley brothers would be pleased. But more importantly, I sense God's pleasure.

From I Corinthians 1:9 in The Message: “God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that.”

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me… (Psalm 138:8)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Week Two with the Kittens: a Ringing Bell news update

RINGING BELL HEADQUARTERS—Due to a strong storm approaching earlier this week, Belle Varnado and her four young ones were moved inside Ringing Bell Headquarters. Formerly feral Belle took about five seconds to adjust to her new environment.

“This is nice,” she said surveying the kitchen corner that staff had selected for her. “Maybe not as interesting as a storm sewer, but nice,” Belle observed.

Security was tight inside headquarters, and a perimeter was established to ward off civil unrest, as the other felines were very vocal about Belle’s relocation into their territory. The next day, feline Misty breached security and confronted Belle.

The staff reports they are still sweeping up grey tabby fur.

“She about tore my head off,” Misty said when interviewed. She licked a bare spot on her left flank, “I just wanted to tell her this has been my space for ten years, and she better not get used to it, because she’s not staying. I didn’t get a word out, before she jumped me.” Misty crept off toward the upstairs window ledge where she’d been staking out a couple of cardinals. She paused and looked back, “Oh, you can let that Belle know not to count on me for any babysitting.”

The ragdoll, Isabelle, has reportedly been in purr therapy for a week. “I don’t know what happened,” she said. “The last time Belle pounced me, my purr apparatus just quit working.” Isabelle gave her chocolate mitted paw a long lick. “Why that’s never happened before. My therapist says I’m in shock.” She fell back against the silk bed cushion where she’d been lying. “This is all, just too, too much.”

Lucy Varnado welcomed the brood warmly into the indoor space she occupies at Ringing Bell Headquarters. “Why, I’m just as happy as can be to get the youngsters in here with me at night. You know, Belle’s such a worrier. She confided to me that she was concerned about some people she knew in the neighborhood. In here, it’s just family.”

Based on this information, a decision was recently made by staff to continue Belle’s residency inside Ringing Bell Headquarters. It’s reported a certain grey striped traveling salesman has been lurking about, wearing a gold chain, and reeking of Aramis. A character of questionable intentions and appearing to have a perpetual dirty nose, staff agreed with Lucy and felt it best to protect Belle and her kittens from any unsavory influences.

The elderly poodle, Charles Varnado, returned briefly from his northern excursion, but after finding Belle had transferred inside Headquarters, he called a friend of his in a retirement center and asked if he could crash for a few nights.

Just when we were about to wrap up the report for week two, Belle decided the kitchen was too busy and moved her crowd behind the wood burning stove. Good thing the stove’s not in use with spring’s arrival.

With all kittens open eyed, week three promises to be lively. Stay tuned.

Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding...wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth and all nations...Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.(Psalm 148:7-13)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

What if...

What if a particular cross were not present in my circumstances?

What if I could push it, shove it, thrust it aside?

Better yet, what if I could totally eradicate it?

And the very best, what if it had never been in the first place?

So, I’m thinking about these things, and I come upon these words last night on page 88:

“Can it be that, that which seems to oppose the will of God actually is used of Him to accomplish that will of God? That which seems evil only seems so because of perspective, the way the eyes see the shadows. Above the clouds, light never stops shining." Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

So, I’m through for the evening’s reading. Those three sentences are enough to hold me for hours. So the hard thing I’m thinking about—could these words possibly pertain to it?

So I pray: This that seems so contrary to your purpose, can it be that you will use it to fulfill your purpose?

George Matheson wrote one of my top ten favorite hymns, “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go (I have been accused of having more than ten in my top ten, however).

O Love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee:
I give thee back the life I owe, that in thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow thru the rain, and feel the promise is not vain, that morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head, I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead, and from the ground there blossoms red life that shall endless be.

And I come upon these words from Matheson this morning: “My, God, I have never thanked Thee for my thorn. I have thanked Thee a thousand times for my roses, but not once for my thorn. I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross; but I have never thought of my cross as itself a present glory. Teach me the glory of my cross; teach me the value of my thorn. Show me that I have climbed to Thee by the path of pain.”

I recently heard Bob Beckwith, the director of the wildly successful University of Georgia Wesley Foundation, comment on what it means to “take up your cross.” He said a cross is something from which we can choose to walk away. It’s not like sickness which is a suffering from which we cannot just decide to leave behind. He suggested that “taking up your cross,” means to stay with the ailing marriage, keep loving the wandering drug addicted child, keep hoping in the hopeless, hard circumstance.

“…take up his cross daily and follow me...” (Luke 9:23)

So, I’m praying this morning to stay with it. To give thanks that God is going to use a dark circumstance in my life for his glory.

And to…can I actually do this…give thanks for the thing itself.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Reflections on the First 82 Pages of One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

Many thanks to gifted and gracious blogger Kim Arnold at Margery Raves On for giving me a shout out last week. I do appreciate it. But, my greater debt of gratitude to Kim as well as to my friend Marion is for pointing me toward the writing of Ann Voskamp.

“Where have you been?” you might ask.

No, I haven’t been living under a rock. But, in the last five years, I‘ve written almost five screenplays, three fiction manuscripts, and multitudes of devotions and articles. So much of my reading has been instructional (screenplays can be a bear), or in the genre in which I write. My blogosphere reading has been limited. But, after I felt God leading me to write One Ringing Bell, I knew I needed to familiarize myself with what was going on out there.

Kim had quoted Ann several times over the past months, and then Marion showed me her copy of One Thousand Gifts. So a few weeks ago, I clicked over to A Holy Experience.

Oh, my.

There aren’t enough adjectives.

Gorgeous, healing, penetrating, heartening. These are a start, but only a start.

I bought One Thousand Gifts and started reading a couple of days ago. I’m on page 82 now.

Some thoughts:

As I read, I kept having this déjà vu sort of feeling. Whose writing am I reminded of when I read Ann’s words? I couldn’t quite get it, until I came to her chapter “A Sanctuary of Time.” Then I knew. To me, Ann’s style is reminiscent of that of Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Dillard. It especially reminds me of Dillard’s writing in An American Childhood.

When I was getting a major in art, something we kept coming back to is seeing. Really seeing is the difference between just drawing a table, and seeing the nuances in the wood grain, the curve the lathe fashioned on the leg, and the place where someone left a glass sitting too long. It’s the difference between any old table and that singular place where my family has shared life and meals for many years. Seeing means locking into the specifics.

When Ann Voskamp encourages gratitude, she’ s encouraging us to really see the world around us and give thanks to God for his infinitely gracious hand in all things--in particulars and in this moment, which leads me to my next point of resonance.

In the late nineties, I suffered from Post Traumatic Stress due to a traumatic event in the present, which linked to a deep wound in my childhood. I honestly didn’t think I’d ever get over it. The intensity of the fear and anxiety cyclically repeated like a ill named merry go round ride in a house of horrors.

One of the ways out for me was to lock into the wonder of the present moment—to stop borrowing trouble and “what ifs” from tomorrow. To look for the good in my time right now. That’s why my post a few days back which referenced Philippians 4:8 is so central to who I am. “.. whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right…think…” In order to get over PTS, I had to allow God to change the way I think, and that meant moving away from negative thinking. When I discovered on Ann’s blog that she had suffered from agoraphobia, I so understood that what she espouses is absolutely life giving to anyone suffering from stress or anxiety. And really, who doesn’t in some degree? I once filled out a questionnaire at a doctor’s office, which posed the question, “Do you suffer from stress?” I laughed aloud and wrote, “Does anyone ever check ‘No’ here?” The doctor later came in chuckling, and said, “Only the ones who are really out there.”

Ann writes about a transformational dream. For me, dreams have brought so much healing to my life. God has spoken repeatedly through dreams in ways I perhaps could not hear in my waking hours.

And about hurry. One of my biggest battles. S-L-O-W D-O-W-N I say to myself many times a day. I learned when getting over PTS, that one of my problems was having a much too long list for the day. I woke in the morning with an agenda, which ten people could not accomplish, and then felt like a failure at the end of the day when I could not finish it all. This all exacerbated the hurry. Now, when I wake, I allow myself three items on my list, my doable list. At the end of the day, I feel good about what I’ve affected. “Hurry always empties a soul,” she says. Yes, yes, yes.

There’s so much more, but this post is already too long. Okay, just one more thing. All the birds and eggs. My office, my entire home is covered in birds. From where I sit now, there’s the bird print in the window treatment, a bird hanging from the rod, birds on a calendar, birds on a table. Even in my screenplay and novel, Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees, birds and nests play a role. Birds are to me a powerful symbol of hope and freedom birthed out of a fragile shell.

So, thanks again Kim. Thanks for pointing me to beauty. And thank you for being beauty yourself and for your faithful witness and inspiration in the midst of almost unimaginable challenges. I find a blessing in everything you write.

If the rest of you haven’t read One Thousand Gifts, do not delay in getting a copy. It’s been rising on the NYT bestseller list for several weeks now.

I’m done for now, but no doubt there’ll be more later here on Ann Voskamp’s engaging teaching. I'm off to read, but I can't read her work too fast, as I have to take time to digest and savor.

For those who’ve been following the story of the kittens, you’ll be happy to know they came inside last night and we made it through the storm with no incident. We closed up the other two cats from Belle, who is a terror on wheels when it comes to other felines. Have no idea where we’ll go from here, but watch for a Ringing Bell news update later in the week.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Drama and More Drama, a Ringing Bell news update

RINGING BELL HEADQUARTERS—Late yesterday, Belle and Lucy Varnado were having one of their daily love feasts when it was discovered Belle had brought Wilbur into the mix. There in the middle of the backyard, at the feet of the giant chocolate canine, lay little Wilbur covered in Lucy licks. The Ringing Bell Staff tried to remain calm about the situation, observed for a season, and then returned Wilbur to his natal corrugated crib.

Undeterred in her efforts to give her brood one on one face time with her beloved pooch, Belle also retrieved Sara and brought her out for a visit.

Belle, Lucy, and Sara
The Staff grew nervous wondering if the enormous dog might inadvertently step on tiny Sara, but as always Lucy exhibited the most delicate manners. After a few moments, the staff returned Sara to the studio. Thinking all well, the staff then retired for the evening.

This morning at approximately 7:30 a.m., Lucy Varnado emerged from indoor quarters to the backyard. As is the routine, food was distributed by staff to all canines and felines.

“Wilbur’s missing. Wilbur’s missing,” a crewmember cried shortly after entering the studio. “The triplets are there, but no Wilbur.”

An alarm went out to all. Flashlights were seized, coats donned, and a search ensued.

The interior of the studio was turned upside down. No Wilbur. The crawl spaces under the studio, barn, and house were checked. No Wilbur. The vent wells, which Belle had shown some disposition toward for birthing were checked. No Wilbur. The front yard, the back yard. No Wilbur. Under the cars. No Wilbur.

Pictures of a hawk descending and carrying away poor defenseless Wilbur began to barge into staff member’s heads. Images of snarling, vicious tomcats soon joined them.

“How will we tell our readers about this?” a staff member questioned, eyes pooling tears.

All near despair, someone had the idea to ask Aunt Lucy about it.

“Well, of course, I was inside headquarters when all this went down, but you know I’ve got a pretty good nose. I’d love to have a crack at finding our Wilbur. We had a great time bonding yesterday, and I just can’t stand to think about something happening to the little tyke.” Lucy wiped a tear from her brown lashed eye.

Fluorescent orange collar flashing in true search and rescue fashion, Lucy set out.

“Find Wilbur, Lucy,” staff members shouted encouragingly.

Once outside the backyard gate, Lucy’s nose went to the ground in determination. She sniffed, followed trails, sniffed, followed trails, sniffed, and….

There in an ivy bed close to the fence, Lucy discovered a black and white ball of fur, alive and safe.

Staff members danced all the way back to the studio.

No explanation has been given for Wilbur’s mysterious relocation, but dog biscuits were brought forth and Lucy was proclaimed “Hero for the Day.”

Between bites, Lucy issued this statement, “I didn’t do anything any other Aunt wouldn’t have done for one of her favorite nephews. Why I’d have searched a tiger’s den if necessary. I’m just glad he’s safe.”

Wilbur sleeping with siblings
Yes, all have breathed a great sigh of relief about Wilbur’s return here at Ringing Bell Headquarters, but the alert level has been raised and an inquiry launched to solve the riddle of Wilbur’s migration.

More on this story later in the week.

Meanwhile, the staff is considering the greater implications of this lost and found story.

“But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. (Luke 15:32)”

P.S Monday, 11:58 a.m.
Mystery solved. Belle, who can be a force of nature, decided she wanted her kittens to be near Lucy. Evidently, in transportation Wilbur crawled underneath the fence. Now, Belle has moved all four to the vent well by the back door, and right beside where Lucy lies everyday. Staff has no idea what they're going to do with a storm coming this evening.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Meet the Kittens: a One Ringing Bell news update

Ringing Bell Headquarters- Today, Belle Varnado celebrates one blissful week with her new family and wishes to thank all who’ve sent their congratulations. She’s very proud of her offspring and wants to introduce them to the rest of the world.

Wilbur, the tuxedo, was named after a certain pig in one of E.B. White’s books. It’s rumored that this past week, a spider in the studio home of the kittens wrote “some pig” on her web about our Wilbur. But not in a good way. Wilbur is some pig—all elbows at the milk fountain and definitely at a loss for table manners. Belle has her work cut out with this one.

Next, the triplets.


Sara, a lovely little lass, put us in mind of Sara Crews in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Princess. Though she was born in a cardboard box, Sara has princess in her heart. Delicate, but of noble character, she never shoves, but waits her turn at feeding time. We expect great things from Sara.

Carl, named for Alexandra Day’s famous Rottweiler. He may be the runt of this litter, but he’s a big cat inside, and we can see Carl carrying on some of the antics of the canine for whom he was named. With a mischievous bent, he’s likely to push Belle’s parental boundaries.


Finally, Eloise. She’s gooey fun and silly games, but smart as can be. And she has a good heart. She means well, but sometimes gets into trouble. With a penchant for travel and excitement, we can definitely see her living at the Plaza like Kay Thompson’s Eloise.

Aunt Lucy has visited the kittens and their mother every day, giving each licks and nudges. She sometimes stands sentry outside the studio, watch dogging and waiting for Belle to emerge.

Lucy awaiting visiting hours in the kitten's studio home..
“I’ve never seen a better mother,” Lucy said. “She's hardly left those kittens for days. I’ve really missed her here in the back yard, but family comes first.” Lucy went off to console herself by excavating another flowerbed.

The other animals, Isabelle, Misty, and Charlie, are persisting in their lukewarm reception to the new additions.

“There’s five of them, and only three of us,” Misty said. “But we’re not letting them take over around here,” she said as she nervously switched her tabby tail.

Apparently, there’s been a lack of solidarity to the situation as Isabelle was back under the bed, and Charles decided to take a sabbatical to parts north. He left no forwarding address, but Charles who is know for his brevity, left a message spelled out in dog food bits: two simple words “D-O-G--G-O-N-E.”

Well, that’s it for this report from Ringing Bell Headquarters. Stay tuned for another update on what promises to be an exciting week as the kittens open their eyes.

Oh, and we forgot to mention, the upstairs and downstairs fish have applied for an immediate transfer.

How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Psalm 104:24

Especially at the Varnado home.
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