Return of the Ducks

Every year about this time, a pair of Mallard ducks drops into our neighborhood looking for a nesting place. It’s interesting to watch them walk (yes walk) around from yard to yard, talking with each other as they go. Yesterday, they stopped below our bird feeders for lunch. The drake kept watch while the hen pecked at the ground; then she stepped back while he munched on the safflower seeds. They never eat at the same time, one always keeps watch while the other eats.

We look on from the kitchen window, hoping they’ll pick our yard for their home this year. They’ve done so in the past, once under the birch tree in the front yard, nestled in the creeping phlox. and once in the back yard under the maple, sheltered in the pachysandra. A few years ago the nest out front had twelve eggs, eleven of which hatched. We watched from the living room window as the hen led her new-born brood out of the nest to who-knows-where.

Spring is an encouraging season, especially this year. First the crocus emerged under the living room window. Then, the birds came to the feeders, each type in its own time, doves, finches, blue jays, chickadees and more. Daily refillings are now part of my routine. Robins are claiming their favorite nesting sites.The grass is greening up, the maple and lilac are showing signs of budding. All this free entertainment, all these annual signs of life, all proof that the God of life, the Master Creator, is still in charge.

A virus like the sci-fi sounding COVID-19 can make us feel as if everything is out of  control. People are dying, the stores are closed, my granddaughter’s bridal shower got cancelled and we’re stuck in the house. But everything is not out of control. The ducks prove it. There is a God who is sovereign over every square inch of the universe, ensuring that life goes on. If anything, this virus is an antidote for arrogance; our idea that we are in charge. It’s a hard way to learn that lesson, but we do need to be reminded over and over that we are flawed and finite creatures.

People are dying, I know. But people are always dying. I’m going to die, and given my age that’s likely to be sooner than later. But I can lift my eyes to heaven and think about the God who holds me and the world in His hands. And I can look out the kitchen window at the carefree critters frolicking in the yard and see evidence that this good God cares for His creatures.

So it’ll take the ducks a few more days to settle on their temporary home. The hen will build the nest, the drake will guard it and her. Together, they’ll tend the nest until the inevitable day when the eggs hatch, and the hen will lead the brood to their new life. I hope they will choose our yard.

“Virtual” is not Reality

Dressed in our “hanging around the house clothes” my wife and I sat in front of the television in our recliners, feet slightly elevated. It was time for the church service. There on the TV was Pastor Veenstra, our pastor, standing in his library as he spoke to the invisible congregation in front of him. He gave a few words of encouragement, read some scripture, and lamented the fact that we were not together. The scene quickly shifted to the front of the empty sanctuary. A few musicians joined the pastor in familiar songs and hymns. All the pieces were there; Invocation, Salutation, Confession & Pardon, Scripture read and proclaimed, Congregational Prayer and Benediction. We sang along with the music, bowed our heads for the prayers and recited the Apostle’s Creed.

Afterward, my wife and I had to make our own coffee, and we had only each other to talk with. Admittedly, the coffee was better than that served during fellowship hour, but the conversation lacked diversity.

In the old days, the Israelites would walk up the hill to the Temple in Jerusalem, singing their “Songs of Ascent”, one of which says, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘let us go to the house of the Lord!’”(Psalm 122) It was important for them to worship God together; to hear the Word of the Lord proclaimed together, to pray together.

There is something significant going on when we enter the sanctuary together. We are the church, but we meet in God’s house. There is something about seeing each other’s faces, shaking hands, giving hugs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, and commiserating with with those who mourn. It’s about time for the “snowbirds” to return from Florida and Arizona. I want to hug them and say “Glad you’re back!”

We are the redeemed, full of gratitude toward a merciful God, eager to hear Him speak to us in scripture as exposited for us by Pastor Veenstra. And sometimes we celebrate the sacrament of The Lord’s Supper together, passing the bread and cup, smiling; grateful.

I’m grateful to our pastor, the musicians and the technicians who made possible our virtual, homebound service on Sunday. But virtual is not the same as reality; it never will be. Merciful God, please bring this crisis to an end, soon please, so that we your people may once again gather in your house to worship you, the Living God.

Of Plumbing and Life

Saturday morning a friend called to get some advice on repairing a leaky pipe in his basement. Leaping at the chance to escape “social isolation”, (surely this was an “essential” activity) I grabbed my pipe soldering kit and dashed over to his house. The leak was tiny, just a once per hour drip from an old soldered joint on a one inch copper water line located high up between the rafters in his workshop.

We used to be partners in a handyman business, doing small remodels and repairs, many of which required some plumbing. No doubt our combined experience would be equal to the task before us now. So the options were:

  1. Re-solder the joint in place. Fast and cheap. I didn’t think it would work.
  2. Cut out all the bad stuff and replace it with new-fangled slip-on parts. Slower, and definitely not cheap.
  3. Unsolder the joint, pull it apart, clean & re-solder. He didn’t think there was enough play in the pipes to get the joint apart.

So, we chatted for a while, talked about families & grandkids & empty shelves in the grocery stores. How were we going to do church on Sunday? Live-stream interactive for him; online pre-recorded video for me. His wife brought me some cookies and a small hand made pillow for my wife to finish and keep. Talked about the leak some more. 

I found leak repair tape online at Home Depot for $6.88. Said it couldn’t hurt to try this first to save all the draining of pipes. He started cleaning the joint and I ran off to Home Depot. What better place for a man to be than in a store with pipes and wires and boards and tools? After a little searching, I found the tape, but could not locate the one inch copper elbow he wanted “just in case”. Outstanding! Now I got to visit Menards; a dream two-fer. More guy stuff and they were already selling shrubs for Spring planting. Found the copper elbow, but the checkout lanes were all full. Stood in line, (they had Xs on the floor, six feet apart, so you knew where to stand). The guy in front of me had a laundry tub, a boatload of drain fittings and four lengths of drain pipe. Others had paint, boards, shelving; projects to occupy the mind and body.

By the time I got back to my friend’s basement, he was trying to re-solder the joint. I watched, gave a little advice, but the solder wouldn’t flow. Maybe a bigger torch would help, so I got out one of mine, adjusted the flame and gave it a go. The solder flowed! Afterward, I inspected the joint and shot my buddy a doubtful look. “Go ahead, turn on the water,” The once per hour drip was now a once per minute drip. I knew it wouldn’t work.

It was time for lunch so I left. What a great morning! We had two hours of conversation and problem solving; two old guys trying to figure out plumbing and life together. As I left, he said he didn’t know when all this would end. I said I didn’t know either, but we both knew the One who does know.

He called me later to say that he’d used some liquid metal to fix the joint and it was now dry as a bone. God is good.

A Sack of Potatoes

A while back in an item titled, Sunny Day Dilemma, I wrote,“If you and I would stop once in a while, and consider how ridiculously well-provided for we are here in the USA; if we’d just count the blessings we take for granted; we’d take a knee before God and continuously offer humble thanks.”

How things change! We went grocery shopping the other day, and the sight of empty shelves was shocking. Come on, this is America! We expect abundance; we demand choices! Funny how fear creates new norms. No eggs. No flour. No carrots. No potatoes. No onions. Rationed toilet paper.

Well, we bought what we needed, but I was aware of this little dark voice in the back of my head, “Maybe I should get two of those; maybe we should stock up on some of that.” The fear and anxiety are more contagious than the new virus we dread. I ignored the voice and we bought what we needed, though not everything on the shopping list.

The next day, I was near a different grocery store, so I went in seeking carrots, onions and potatoes. Delighted, I saw a few bags of carrots and plopped one into my basket. Plucked up a bag of mandarin oranges. Then I spied ONE bag of russet potatoes. Just as I grabbed it, a woman with a shopping cart approached the now empty bin. I said, “Are you looking for potatoes?” She nodded. “Here take these. We still have some at home” I said, and handed her the bag.

When the disciples asked Him “Teach us to pray”, Jesus taught them this prayer:

Luke 11:2-4 (ESV) “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”

“Daily bread.” Not two weeks supply in case the store runs out. Not a months supply in the freezer. Not six months of canned stuff in a bunker. Just bread, every day. In my now 77 years on earth, not one day has God failed to feed me something. I’ve been broke, unemployed, sick, lost. Never once did God leave me unfed. Even better, God never left me without hope:

Revelation 1:17-18 (ESV) “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”

As my Pastor said this morning, God knows the end.

We still have more than we need in this country. This crisis will pass. As for me and my house, we’ll take it one day, and one loaf, at a time. SDG

Sunny Day Dilemma

I read a post by a friend of mine the other day saying “It’s a beautiful day but I can’t decide; motorcycle ride or boat ride?” Kevin’s recreational dilemma earned him a boatload (sorry) of smart-aleck responses, including mine which simply said “First-world problem.” Not that I faulted him for thinking about how to spend his day off. I probably would have chosen a round of golf.

It got me to thinking about life in the USA. I hear complaints such as,“I can’t believe the price they’re asking for organic arugula.” “My cell phone battery died!” “Did you see the price of gas went up five cents today?” “Can you believe this heat? And our air conditioner is acting up.” “Starbuck’s was soooo crowded today.”

Every morning I get out of bed, pause for a quick stop in the bathroom then drink a cup of cold water to begin the re-hydration process. I fill the coffee machine and turn it on. Then I walk to the living room, open the drapes and do a few stretches while watching the neighbors walk by with their dogs. Back to the coffee machine where I brew a single cup of very good, strong coffee and then to my recliner. I switch on the reading light, grab my devotional book and scripture lesson for the day, pray for the Holy Spirit to guide me and then read, then pray. By the time I’m through, my wife is up, so I dress and join her for breakfast.IMG_0085

Each day, as I’m doing these things, I think about the millions of people around the globe whose day begins very differently from my day. They may live in a straw-covered hut or a tin-roofed shack. There’s no bed. There’s no plumbing. There’s no electricity. Water has to be fetched. There’s no coffee and there might not be any breakfast either. There’s no living room to go to because there is only one room. No drapes. No leashed pets walking by with pet owners to follow them with plastic baggies for the poop. In Mexico, in India, in parts of Africa or South America, this is how the day starts.

Now, I don’t feel guilty about this (you want me to, don’t you?) No, what I feel is gratitude. Not just some vague “I feel so blessed.” kind of gratitude, but a deep, soul deep, gratitude to my God and Father who placed me in this wonderful country. I don’t deserve this; but it is what my God has chosen for my lot.

If you and I would stop once in a while, and consider how ridiculously well-provided for we are here in the USA; if we’d just count the blessings (clean water!) we take for granted; we’d take a knee before God and continuously offer humble thanks.

By USA standards, I’m not wealthy. Living on that dreaded “fixed income” that old people like to complain about (because not enough of you are buying my book!) Yet I enjoy a standard of living that most of the rest of the world envies.

So after coffee and scripture, my prayer includes sincere thanks to God for His bounty, a resolve to use it wisely and to share it when I can. Then it’s time to get dressed. I wonder what they’re getting for that organic arugula today?

Never Ending Edit

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Writing can be fun. You have a story to tell, and you pour it out on paper or into a computer. It’s a great story. But to be a truly great story, it must be edited, so you correct spelling and punctuation errors, add detail, move things around, delete irrelevant material. Then you ask an expert to edit. New errors emerge. About ten thousand commas have to be added. (Hyperbole is permitted to emphasize a point. It’s a writer thing.) Then you find a few more errors. Fix them. Review again. In the end you don’t stop editing because it’s perfect, you stop because you’re tired and it’s never going to be perfect.

It is very much the same thing with the Christian life.  By the grace of God, through faith in Jesus, your sins are forgiven, and you begin a new life as part of God’s great drama of salvation. Now that you are saved, the process of sanctification begins; the process of becoming more and more like Jesus. The Holy Spirit starts to “edit” your life. Corrections are needed in the way you think, in the way you react to things, in your priorities, in your relationships. Some things need to be added; worship, study, prayer, and love. Some things need to be eliminated; anger, lust, greed, and hate.

Just when you think you’ve got it, a new flaw emerges. It’ll never be perfect you think. And you’re right. In this life none of us will achieve perfection. But don’t despair, because on Judgement Day, we’ll get a robe of perfection directly from Jesus. It covers everything since He is perfect.

So, when you read my book, you will find errors. If you get to know me, you will see manifold imperfections. But on Judgement Day, not one comma will be out of place. SDG

Goodbye Facebook

It started out simply enough, I just wanted a place where I could keep up with out of town family members and some old friends. Then I discovered more friends from long ago, reconnected with my distant home town, found a few people with whom I had  common interests, and connected with new co-workers.

After I wrote my book, I started an “Author” page where I could publish tidbits about the book and my writing, and market the book “for free.”

I have never liked the idea that my data was being shared with who knows who by Facebook, and I was not comforted by Mark Zuckerberg’s recent testimony before congress about Facebook’s present and future strategies for using my data. They’re going to track my emotions? How? Do I really need to put tape over the camera on my laptop?

Then there’s the nastiness of the place. Trying to have a serious, thoughtful conversation about ANYTHING opens you up to ignorant, foul-mouthed comments from complete strangers. Except for cats. You can post cat videos without being criticized. But I don’t have a cat.

I read a comment recently that said, “If the service is ‘free’, you are not the customer, you are the product.” I guess if I’m going to sell myself, I’d like to decide what parts to sell and to whom they will be sold. (Hint: please buy my book.)

So I deleted my Facebook account today. Goodbye friends. Goodbye family photos. Goodbye home town nostalgia. Goodbye pop-up ads for stuff I already bought. It was nice, but …