Ducks In My Driveway

My husband built me a koi pond for our front yard about a year and a half ago. Since then I’ve been able to enjoy watching my fish grow from abut 2″ to more than 12″ each. They are lovely. Just yesterday, 2 mallard ducks decided to joinIMG_6386 us in our yard. They are a beautiful pair, calm as could be, letting us come within a foot of them with no problem. I have a bird feeder in my yard, so I grabbed the bag of seed and scattered some on the driveway for them. The sprinklers were on, so they enjoyed getting wet and sipping in the puddles.

Then they began to show interest in the koi pond. Uh oh. I wondered if that was a good idea. Would they scare my fish? IMG_6391Could they harm them? The fish are almost as big as they are, so I didn’t figure they’d eat them, but would they hurt them in some way? Luckily, the drake just jumped on the side, looked for awhile and then waddled away. But today, they were back again, and this time, they thought they’d take a little swim. The koi don’t seem to mind, but I was concerned about possible parasites or bacteria from wherever else they’d been. IMG_6403I did what every rational person does at a time like this: I googled it. “Ducks in my koi pond.” And of course, I came up with as many opinions as there were answers. Tame ducks are OK, but stay away from the wild ones (that should be true of our friends in life, too, shouldn’t it? haha). Ducks add interest to your pond, let them stay! If you attracted ducks, you’ve done something right!

I’ve decided to let nature take its course. They’ve already helped me out by eating the pink apple snail eggs that tend to line the edges of the pond, so that saves me from having to scrape them off. And they’re just so darn cute! My husband is hoping they’ll build and nest and we’ll have babies eventually. I’m not sure whether that will happen or not, but for now, we’re enjoying the company. IMG_6401And yes, that means all of us.

My question is: why are they suddenly finding our yard attractive? Where did they come from? Will they be sticking around? If only we could speak duck.

Sometimes we all find ourselves in circumstances different than what we’re used to. What’s that saying? Like ducks out of water? We’re uncomfortable, we’re frightened, we’re unsure of what we’re doing. Sometimes we just have to find IMG_6396
what’s familiar. Is that some water over there? It’s smaller than what we’re used to, but let’s just go with it. The fish look pretty friendly. Maybe someone will toss us some seed every now and again.
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Eventually, wherever we are, we will settle in and life will become normal again. New normal, maybe, but normal nevertheless. Whether we stay in that new place, move on to another or go back from whence we came, God sees us, He goes ahead of us, and He knows what we need.

 

25 Years and Counting

4 weeks ago today, David and I celebrated our 25th anniversary. I know it’s cliché, but honestly, time has simply flown by. I was 29 when we got married (go ahead, do the math. I’ll wait.) I wasn’t a spring chicken, but that just meant I brought more maturity into the relationship, right?

We’ve come a long way on this journey, and we still have a long way to go, Lord willing, but here are some things I’ve learned along that journey.

You can run, but you cannot hide. Well, yes, you can hide, but then you won’t be known, nor will you know anyone fully. Hiding might make you feel IMG_5215better for awhile, but eventually you’ll need to come out of your shell. Coming out of hiding does make you vulnerable, and it’s not comfortable, but it’s so worth it to know that somebody knows you well. And loves you just the same.

You might not always know where you’re going, but if you’re walking together, you’re not lost.IMG_5222

We didn’t know when we got married that David would be diagnosed with a chronic illness. We didn’t know that we would struggle to have children. We didn’t know that we would suffer 3 miscarriages before and between our 3 beautiful kids.We didn’t know I would lose both of my parents within a year a half of each other. We didn’t know that David’s parents would divorce after 48 years of marriage. We didn’t know we’d need counseling to get our marriage back on the right path. But we walked it together. And that made all the difference.

The enemy of our souls doesn’t want us to succeed. When we IMG_5224attended a marriage conference after about a year of marriage, we heard a life-changing truth: your spouse is not your enemy. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? But how often do we blame our spouse for our troubles, or take our frustration out on them, or think that they purposely do something to hurt or annoy us? David is not my enemy. In fact, he’s my greatest ally. It’s Satan who seeks to kill, steal and destroy. And he’s always looking for opportunity to do so. Don’t give him any ground.

Sometimes the directional signals are hard to find, but they’re always there. IMG_5223When life is just going along—you’re raising kids, working your job, living your life—it’s easy to forget to keep asking the Pathmaker where He wants you to go next. I recently was asked to step down from a position that I had filled for many years. It came as a surprise and wrecked me for awhile, but as I was thinking it through, it occurred to me that I had never once stopped to ask the Lord if He still wanted me to do what I was doing. I thought it was a foregone conclusion because I was good at what I did. But stopping to look around and find those arrows that will point us in the right direction is vital to not being taken aback when something happens to our neat little life. David and I have experienced a few of those changes in direction in our 25 years, but we always acknowledge that God is the one laying out the path before us.

Version 2

December 25, 1991, year 1

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December 23, 2015, year 25

photographs taken in the Chuluota Wilderness Area, Chuluota, Fla.

Hold Onto Hope

IMG_2048Awhile back, I wrote a post about my avocado tree. (See The Beetle Within Us) I was sad to have to report that, after just a year of bearing fruit, the tree had to be taken out because it was diseased by the ambrosia beetle. Well, we had a storm more than a year ago that knocked down part of our back fence near where the tree used to grow. In removing the old fence, my husband came across this 18-inch-high seedling that had been growing from a pit discarded by the squirrels in the corner of the yard.

Imagine our surprise and our pleasure at finding this small glimmer of hope that we could still have a healthy avocado tree in the future.

This seemed to me a perfect analogy for the life of a prodigal: There is always hope that there is life left in those who wander from God.

When the new fence panels went in, the seedling was transplanted to our front yard. It was so small back then, and it was hot out, so daily, even twice-daily, watering was vital for its survival. It’s now more than 10 feet tall. It is surrounded by other plantsIMG_5551, yet given its own space. When it was still very small, we could watch it, we could nurture it, we could pray that it would grow big and strong and eventually produce fruit. All we could do was give it the best environment that we knew how to give; the rest was, and still is, up to its Creator. It hasn’t borne fruit yet, but we hope it’s well on its way.

I recently read a phenomenal article by Abraham Piper, the son of pastor and author John Piper, whom I greatly admire. Abraham was a prodigal for many years, and his insight into how to love prodigals back to Jesus is something I think everyone struggling with this should read. The article is quite long, so you can read the entire text here (Let Them Come Home). The following points are his, with my condensed interpretation.

1. Point them to Christ.Piper contends that the real problem with your prodigal is not their behavior, it’s that they don’t see Jesus clearly. Therefore, the best thing you can do is show them Christ. Their only hope is to clearly see Jesus and His love for them.

2. Pray.
“Only God can save your children, so keep on asking Him to display Himself to them in a way they can’t resist worshiping Him for.”

3. Acknowledge that something is wrong.
Don’t pretend that everything is fine. Don’t ignore their unbelief. Reach out and keep reaching out.

4. Don’t expect them to be Christlike.
“No matter how your child’s behavior proves his unbelief, always be sure to focus more on his heart’s sickness than its symptoms.” If they’re not believers, they’re not going to act like believers. Hearts need to change first.

5. Welcome them home.
No matter what they’ve done, if they want to come home, let them. If they have any desire whatsoever to be with you, let them come. You are going to be the best influence in their life. Make sure you aren’t pushing them away.

6. Plead with them more than you rebuke them.
Piper says, “Be gentle in your disappointment. . . Her conscience can condemn her by itself. Your role is to stand kindly and firmly, always living in the hope that you want your child to return to.”

7. Connect them to other believers.
If you know another believer you think might reach them better than you can, by all means, get them together.

8. Respect their friends.
Be hospitable. Her friends are someone else’s wayward children, and they need Jesus, too.

9. E-mail them.
“When you read something in the Bible that encourages you and helps you love Jesus more, write it up in a couple of lines and send it to your child. The best exhortation—better than any correction—is for them to see Christ’s joy in your life. Don’t stress out when you’re composing these as if each one needs to be singularly powerful. Just whip them out and let the cumulative effect of your satisfaction in God gather up in your child’s inbox. God’s Word is never useless.”

10. Take them to lunch.
Have actual facetime. Even if it may hurt to hear what they’re up to, do it anyway. Your interest in them as a person will speak volumes to them. Make the time to get together.

11. Take an interest in their pursuits.
Find value in what they like. Ask questions. Hear their heart.

12. Point them to Christ.
“This can’t be stressed enough. It’s the whole point. No strategy for reaching your son or daughter will have any lasting effect if the underlying goal isn’t to help them know Jesus.”

Be faithful and don’t give up.

 

When The Womb Runs Dry

9-25-02.2I remember with vivid clarity the day we learned I had miscarried our first child. We were traveling home from Colorado to Florida when I started spotting. After 4 years of infertility, the thought of losing this long-awaited baby was terrifying. When the loss was confirmed, it seemed my tears would never stop.

That was almost 21 years ago.

I have 3 healthy children, 13, 17 and 19. Although we lost 2 more babies in the midst, our quiver is as full as we want it. Yet when the realization hit that I was on the downside of menopause, I cried.

I loved being pregnant. I didn’t suffer the nausea of so many of my friends. Although worried during my second pregnancy that the same thing would happen as the first, it got increasingly easier to relax. Nausea-free pregnancies, problem-free births (well, there were 2 short stays in the NICU for #1 and #3, but all was fine in the end), pain-free nursing (although I had to supplement #2 and #3 because they weren’t gaining enough weight). After our infertility struggle, I felt very blessed.

I was 4 days away from being 35 when I had my first child, and I was almost 41 when I Xmas 04had my 3rd, so another pregnancy really wasn’t in the cards for us. But still, the idea that it would never happen again stirred up feelings I didn’t even know were there. Somehow we think childbearing defines us as women and when we find ourselves unable to do that, our self-image takes a hit.

Now, after 2 years of no more visits from Aunt Flo, I am mostly at peace with the situation, knowing that an infant in the house would really throw us for a loop, but the baby boom in the young moms around me causes some melancholy. My friends from high school and college are becoming grandparents, having started parenting a lot sooner than I, and my arms long to cuddle newborns again. I plead for time holding the young mom’s infants, but somehow someone consistently beats me to it.

I know that there are many who cannot bear their own babies. Some opt to remain childless, some adopt infants, some adopt older kids. I have friends in all camps. The struggle is real. When I didn’t know whether I’d be able to have children or not, each new birth around me was painful. Now, each new birth is a joy as I know that it’s my time to be a mentor, to let the younger women have their chance. I’m certainly glad to be able to sleep through the night! And it’s probably a good thing that my daughter and I won’t be hormonal at the same time once she gets in on the act.

IMG_4533Bearing babies isn’t what makes me a woman. It isn’t what gives me worth. It isn’t even what defines me. I am a mom and it’s a wonderful thing. But I am first of all a child of God. Nothing will change that. Instead of being defined by the blood I used to shed each month, I am defined by the blood shed for me on the Cross. It will never run dry.

 

Now excuse me while I go find a baby to hold.

 

 

 

4 Things I Learned On My Weight-Loss Journey

Today marks 1 year since I began my journey toward improved health through weight loss and better eating (which often go hand-in-hand). I have lost 28 pounds and several inches in various places. I won’t bore you with the details.

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January, 2015 and January 2016, indicating which number workout I’m on for the week.

Suffice it to say that the change and the encouragement have been significant. How do I do it? I eat less and I exercise more. Fewer carbs, fewer calories, more workouts. That’s it.

It started with a challenge from a friend to a bunch of moms who work together at our kids’ parent-involved school. She and her husband had been in a similar “biggest loser” group and she had lost about 25 pounds. She was so encouraged by what she had accomplished that she wanted to give us a chance to succeed as well. It didn’t hurt that there was a financial incentive.

So on January 17th, 2015, I and 16 of my friends committed to 12 weeks of exercise challenges, weight-loss goals and healthy eating.

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Top are my before and after pictures, and then 5 months after that.

It hasn’t been easy, but even now I’m continuing on because it is worth it. All those “Lose weight without giving up the foods you love” gimmicks are just that: gimmicks. What is takes is hard work and dedication. Here are 4 things I learned along the way.

#1. I’m still the same person I was a year ago. I’m just a better, healthier version. I wasn’t unhappy with my life before. I have the same mind, I have the same heart, I have the same gifts and talents. But I do have different clothes, and I feel a lot better about myself. This has needed to happen for a long time.

#2. My husband didn’t love me any less before I lost weight. Now he just loves less of me. He never told me I needed to lose weight. He never pushed me to exercise. He never looked askance when I ordered dessert at a restaurant. And, in fact, he loves to bake and is at this very moment making banana muffins! But when I made the decision to take on this task, I know he was happy. I never felt belittled or unloved. But now he calls me his trophy wife. We’ve been married 25 years.

#3. I can’t do it alone. After our initial 12-week challenge was over, my friends and I decided to keep going in another Facebook group that we called T.H.R.I.V.E. That stands for Total Health, Real Inspiration, Vitality and Encouragement. We keep each other accountable, which is absolutely key. If I don’t feel like working out, I know my friends are watching, so I get out there. And we make sure that we emphasize that the scale isn’t everything. Health is the ultimate goal, not wearing size-6 clothes. We all believe that we are created in God’s image and are valuable and beautiful just as we are. But that doesn’t mean we’re healthy.

#4. If I can do it, anyone can. Truly. I was 53 years old when I started this process. I had tried numerous times before to lose weight and had very little success. The key this time is accountability with a group as committed as I am to eating better and getting healthy. I don’t have nagging health issues, I just really wanted to lose weight. I didn’t like the way I looked. But there are some who are battling sickness. We share recipes and encourage one another to make good choices in foods. We cheer each other on. It’s so much easier to reach a goal when you have cheerleaders.

I’m not done yet. I still have about 10 pounds I would like to lose. That would put me about in the center of a healthy BMI. I also have a friend who is a personal trainer who is going to help me firm up what I have. The temptation to eat more than I need and to gravitate toward processed and sweet foods is strong. But my accountability group helps me make good choices. Except during the holidays. That was too much!

The challenges are many, but the benefits are worth it. If this is something you’ve been struggling with, let me encourage you: you can do it! Find at least one person to start the journey with and do it together. You will not be sorry.

OJ Didn’t Do It (and other myths I’ve believed)

I am an optimist by ntruth vs liesature, and I like to believe what people tell me. After 54 years on planet Earth, I’ve had a few things chip away at that naiveté. For instance, back in the day when O.J. Simpson was accused of murdering his wife and waiter Ronald Goldman, I thought there was no way he could be guilty. He was a football icon, for heaven’s sake. How could he have done something so terrible?

Well, apparently I was wrong. My faith in humanity took a huge dip. Recently, I have been confronted by the arrest of Bill Cosby, an entertainer whose work I have loved over many, many years. I have read differing points of view: some people say it’s about race, some think the women accusing him only want notoriety and money, others think he’s an evil person. He hasn’t been convicted, of course, but why would so many women lie?

Then there’s Woody Allen and Ben Roethlisberger and Jameis Winston. I’m sure I could name more. Who’s telling the truth?

Did you know that Tim Tebow travels with a small entourage all the time so that he’s never alone? Not only does he want the accountability, he wants there to be no opportunity for anyone to accuse him of anything, because there is always a witness.

My daughter is reading Chuck Colson’s book Born Again for school and I’ve been reading along with her, sometimes to her because it’s so complicated, and I am seeing that not everything you read in the media is right. Go figure. We complain now about a biased media, but they sure were biased back in the 70’s as well. There was so much going on behind the scenes in Washington during the whole Watergate scandal, but apparently many of the inflammatory headlines were completely fabricated. Rumors fly so freely, especially in this day of the internet, that separating truth from fiction is very difficult. Anyone can say something about someone and suddenly it’s gospel truth.

Even a solid track record doesn’t guarantee a hero won’t fall. Everyone is vulnerable. But we also know that people have been accused falsely, like Chuck Colson was. So how do we know?

I don’t believe being suspicious of everyone is the answer. The Bible tells us to be discerning, (1 Kings 3:9 for one: “So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”), and that comes only through prayer. God alone knows the truth when it comes down to he said/she said. It’s not our job to determine who’s lying unless we’re on a jury. Our job is to pray, to share the gospel, and to love those who have fallen because but for the grace of God, there would we be as well.

image from NTK.com—Don’t believe a word they say

10 Ways To Know Your Cats Love You

Ha ha ha ha! That’s a good one, isn’t it? Not only are there not 10 ways to know your cats love you, I’m not sure there’s even 1. But I’ve owned more cats than any other animal, so here’s what I’ve experienced in my more than 40 years of having kitty companions.

1. No two are the same, even if they look like it on the outside.

Here are Stella and Luna. They were abandoned and we adopted them in May. TheIMG_1421y are sweet little girls who wreck havoc in the most innocent way possible. Luna tends to cuddle with me more, but Stella has taken to coming in my room and jumping onto my bed and purring and pushing on me until I acknowledge her presence, even at 4 in the morning. Yea. That’s kitty love. Stella vocalizes more, and is the slightly smaller of the 2. She was diagnosed with a heart murmur when I first took her to the vet.She hasn’t had any issues since. Luna is a master lizard hunter and will growl at you if you try to take away her catch.They are virtually identical in looks, but different in personIMG_5206ality. Luna likes to be in or under something at all times. I can almost always tell which is which by what they’re doing. Unless they’re sleeping. Then they’re identical.

 

2. Even one who loves and trusts you can inflict pain.

Before Luna P1030013and Stella, we had Oreo. Oh my, what a big lover he was. He would snuggle up with me every night and curl himself into the curve of my body. He was big and he was rough and tumble102_0829. He loved to lie on his back with his belly bared for all to see. That was his favorite position. But don’t rub that belly or he’d dig those fangs into you in a second! He died unexpectedly 2 years ago yesterday. He was the first cat my kids knew from kittenhood. He was 17 weeks when we got him from a friend whose son wasn’t taking care of him as he should.

3. Even when you care for them their whole life, they’re not always going to act the way you want them to.

The first kitty I had when I moved away from home and started my adult life was a 5-week old little black ball of fluff living in the bushes where her mom was a straIMG_5086y. She fit into the palm of my hand.  Ashley lived to the ripe old age of 18. She was kind of crotchety and would growl at my husband if she was on the bed and he moved in a way she IMG_5085didn’t like. That didn’t go over very well with someone who doesn’t like cats in the first place. But she was my baby, totally devoted to me. She’d been  known to scratch people on a regular basis, but as seen100_0002 in the photo, when she was quite old, she let a toddler be her friend. She loved tuna, windmill cookies, and smoked turkey. Sometimes she would crawl all the way under the covers to the bottom of the bed. I always wondered how she could breath.

4. You never forget your first love.

My very first cat was Meshach, a Maine Coon. I only have very bad printed photos of hIMG_5083er, so forgive the quality. I got her when I was 13 and she passed away after I went away to college for my junior and senior years, about 7 years later. She was my baby, so she was devoted to me. She would sleep right on top of me and was with me all the time. It broke my heart when I learned she had died and I wasn’t there for her. It’s funny that though I very distinctly remember my sweet kitty, I don’t remember the fine details of life with her. But I remember the love. I remember that IMG_5084she would frequently get these sores on the bottoms of her hind legs that we could never figure out. We had to keep them bandaged and she walked funny while the bandages were on. Had Instagram and Facebook been around back then, I’m sure I’d have much more of a chronicle of her life.

So those are my feline friends, Meshach, Ashley, Oreo, Stella and Luna. I miss each one and never go very long before getting another after one passes away. It may be hard to say how they show their love, but somehow we just know they do.

I’d love to hear about your fluffy loves.