My Uncomfortable Life (and how God uses it)

I love to play the piano.

I am not a virtuoso, but I have played enough over the years, that I can relax and enjoy expressing myself through music.  I’ve played hymns in churches most of my life, and always offer to do so when I move to someplace new.

And so it happened that I offered to play for the church that I am attending here, “up north”. and am collecting quite a collection of piano stories with a common theme. Embarrassment.  It’s got me thinking.  But, as always, what I let myself think is important. Humility and embarrassment are related, but not quite the same and that is where the importance starts.

This morning I arrived early enough for church that I could make sure the electronic instrument, a clavinova, was plugged in, turned on and sounded appropriate for the small early service. I only had to play for the communion portion of the service – one hymn.  All was set.  The service went well, the message was moving and the invitation was given for communion. To my surprise, when I started to play there was a pop drum beat and a very weird bass thing going on with my reverent, calm hymn.

I hunted for any button on the control board that had STOP written on it, and tried several times to make the hymn sound like a hymn, but no. What finally came out of the machine was barely recognizable and was probably more distracting than having no music at all.  Stuff like this is a musician’s nightmare.

This particular service is early, 8 am, and has small attendance, so the music crew does not do a lot of practice for it.  Other times when I’ve participated, I have played the wrong song at the right time, played the right song at the wrong time, and played when I was not supposed to play at all.  I suppose the regular attendees are getting kind of used to me and my uncomfortable adventures.

I am filled with mixed emotions. Why do these things keep happening? It always takes a bit of courage to put myself in a place of service to others where what I do is noticeable if I do it poorly. I am aware that music sets the mood and can influence people. I desperately (yes, desperately!) want to not distract people from their worship, or make them uncomfortable because they are worried about me.

On the other hand, I realize that music is not what it’s all about.  Worship is not about me at all and how I respond when things go poorly is what God is probably watching. What does my embarrassment lead to? What discouraging messages am I giving myself about my performance, my usefulness? Will I be intimidated and unwilling to serve again? Those would not be good choices. However, I have to consider that God might be telling me that my time playing for church is finished.  Maybe I am to move on to something else, and it would be okay.  It has to be okay. Kind of makes me look at my pride issues and wonder what God wants to teach me next.  That is always a good thing.

This morning, the pastor asked me what I was going to write about next.  I had no idea then, but God inspires in strange ways and look what happens. Just sayin’…

 

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Bottom line – I can always make music in my heart, and maybe that’s the best place for it…

Evening Walk

Today I spent a lot of time sitting in the car, sitting in waiting rooms, sitting… and trying not to fall asleep. When there were a few free minutes at home before dinner, I had to get out and stretch with a walk.

This world is such a beautiful place, and if you don’t have places that bring that fact home to you, you need to find some NOW.

You can come to my place. This is how it looks at sunset on a fairly warm (34 degrees F.) winter afternoon. Enjoy.

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The Lodge

Nothing refreshes me, body, soul and spirit, like being outside in the woods and marshes. I had a good dose of nature today.

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I have a fascination with the beavers here on our wetlands. (I feel like I’ve said this before, at least once.) Today I was dressed well enough and had no time constraints so I went off the track into the woods to make my way to the beaver lodge – not that beavers live in the woods, but the wetlands are complicated. The water flows into ponds that have fingers of marsh that spread out into all the low places in the woods. I could see the beaver lodge from the path but to go directly to it would mean crossing a bit of ice with occasional open spots. I like to stick to the wooded areas around the edges.

 

The path, and I was surprised to see that it was an obvious trail, led through the most awesomely beautiful snowy wonderland. There were a lot of animal tracks, but a person with their dog had left prints as well. It’s kind of special when I get to go someplace that I know not many people have gone. I could hardly stop taking pictures.

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Ice, followed by snow, piled high on every little twig and branch.

 

We’ve had some storms in the last few year which have taken down a lot of trees. In addition to that the high water levels have killed trees, and the beaver have chewed a few down too. The woods look like they’ve a rough time of it, but even that has a beauty, in that life and death are there, entangled with each other. The starkness of winter leaves it all visible.

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Life and death, in close proximity.

 

I found the lodge. I walked out on the ice. I even found a place that looked like it might be an entrance into the watery world below the ice – a dark hole, under a log at the edge of the marsh with open water and lots of animal tracks. Could it be where the beaver come and go? I was looking for tracks that might look like a beaver tail was dragging behind, but I couldn’t say for sure that I saw any.

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The lodge – easily as tall as I am.
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and the nearby hole into open water, that has obviously been well investigated by animals.

 

The lodge is quite a large structure, a mound that can be seen from quite a distance away. On the way there I crawled into the fort built by the survivalists in the burn pile. There was snow in the entrance but further in it was dry and cozy looking. I imagine it could look a little like that in the beaver lodge.  I hope they are in there, safe and warm.

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Beaver tracks? I don’t know… probably not.

Winter is awfully long here. I don’t know what beavers do in the winter, but it’s probably eating and sleeping for the most part. I hope they don’t get bored…

 

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A Different Kind of Whitewater

S N O W

So Now Over Winter (just kidding, I love it…)

We got more snow last night.

I was awake at 3:30 am listening to the plow over in the Walmart parking lot. There are fences and tree borders between our condo and Wally World so we don’t see it, but we do hear most everything. That’s how I knew there was more snow.

I didn’t actually get up until 5 and since it was still super dark, and I think it’s a little ridiculous to shovel snow in the super dark, I waited another hour to go out. It was simple dark then, and my brother was out with his Bobcat, clearing the parking area for his employees to arrive.

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In case you are wondering, this is simple dark, and my footprints.

It was a whole different kind of shoveling today. The shovel no longer slid easily over the cement. I had to kick it every few inches because there was an immovable layer in there somewhere. If you’ve ever had a pan with food burned on it, that’s what it was like. It was also quite slippery – made it hazardous to get in a good kick when the leg I was standing on was slipping out from under me.

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This is all I do – walkways and a few feet in front of garage doors. My brother takes over from here, with the machine.

Frequent rest periods were the answer. Every time I would stop and look around I was amazed all over again at how beautiful the world is when covered with snow. And to be out in it is an experience so different from looking at it.

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Look how pretty.
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Outlined in white…
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Lights and darks,
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Snow…

My snowman looked a little stressed this morning, just sayin’…

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I didn’t make him bending over like that. He did it himself.

 

December “Up North”

For a month now, we’ve been waiting for snow. We had such a good start in November but since then the temperatures have been between the high teens and a bit less than 40. The early snow has gradually melted in all but the shadiest, most protected places. In some ways this mild streak of temperatures is nice but it puts a damper on those who are waiting to ski, snowmobile or just see more of the pretty white stuff.

We were very hopeful about the winter storm that was forecast for last night. And sure enough, when I looked out in the dark this morning, I could tell by the streetlights that we had new snow. We also had a good chance of more precipitation in some form, but it was 37 degrees – that meant it would likely be rain not snow.

My brother is responsible for snow removal in the small development that he manages. I help him when I can. He runs a small machine with a plow, called a skid steer, and I shovel close to the houses where he can’t easily go with the machine. There are 12 dwellings. It’s a good upper body workout, yes it is.

But I like to shovel snow most of the time. This snow was wet and heavy. There really should be different names for all the different kinds of snow, and there are a few, I guess. This snow was white and pretty on top but slush underneath. Slush is heavy, being mostly water trapped in collapsing snow particles. When I pushed the shovel through 3 to 4 inches of this stuff it would curl up in a roll until it was too heavy for me to make it move. If I’d been out to play instead of work, it would have made super, sticky snowballs.

And the more I thought about it (play), I decided I was not an “all work” girl. Making a giant snowball is a pretty nifty way of clearing a path, so I did that a couple of times and ended up with a snowman. By this time it was raining instead of snowing. I had a hard time getting Frosty’s eyes and nose to stay on his face for a picture but I persisted. Mom is not “all work” either. She suggested one of her hats would look good on him, so that’s why he got photographed twice – the second time with a somewhat more glorified nose.

Mystery in the Meadow, conclusion

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The response to her brother’s note, left at the door of the fort, came two days later. It didn’t quite match any of the compelling situations she had imagined, but Shirley was okay with that.  It was a relief to know that there was no criminal in hiding, no homeless desperado, no Bigfoot out in her meadow. It was still a safe place to walk. And it turned out that the real situation was as interesting to her as the imaginary one.

It was a survival class being taught at the charter school whose property bordered the wetlands and meadow. The teacher called to remind Dennis that he had contacted him months ago about permission to use the property. He had been taking small groups of students there frequently to practice skills like finding shelter, finding food, and starting fire.  No one had noticed them out there.

The fort had been his idea. He had led the others out to the meadow to construct it. They had made fire probably four times for a simple meal, maybe six more times for keeping warm, preserving the fire bed for the next time. They were kids, but someone had to help them know that campfires were for more than roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. Shelter and fire could mean their survival. It had been a fun class.

——————————————————

It didn’t take her long to find him on Facebook and ask for a meeting. Sitting in the local coffee shop with their hot drinks, Shirley got whole story from the teacher himself.  He was clearly passionate about the outdoors, about survival in a myriad of environments, and about teaching basic skills to anyone who needed to learn them. He had stories…

Survival was a recurring theme in his life and was extremely important. He learned that at an early age growing up in Alaska.  He learned it in the military. He learned it traveling to foreign countries. There were countless experiences that reinforced that lesson.

He would present scenarios to his students. What if the plane they were on crashed in the middle of an uninhabited area and there were 50 survivors, or 100? What would be the best course of action to save lives, to survive? What would you do for the wounded? Where might you find food and shelter until help arrived? What resources might be right there in front of you but go unnoticed? He believed everyone should have a chance to think about those things. Those were the kinds of things they talked about out in the meadow, as they built the fort.

Not everyone responded warmly to the experiences he offered, at least not at first. There were the silent ones, the thinkers, the watchers. Some had been fearful and guarded all their lives. But as young people they were flexible, they learned what he was teaching and it gave them confidence, allowed them to trust and work cooperatively. It was life changing for them and rewarding for him.

“So what comes next?” she asked him as they finished their lattes and prepared to leave the shop.

“Maybe, if the fort is still there for the next class, we’ll figure out how to keep it warm. I want to see if the kids can figure out something solar, although you would be surprised how warm it gets with a dozen kids in there…”

Thanks to John (or Scott or whoever you really are) and  Angela for the latte and a great conversation. Hope to hear more of your adventures in the future.

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The meadow and surrounding wetlands.

 

Mystery in the Meadow, cont.

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Sunrise “up north” when we’re lucky…

Shirley gave up trying to sleep, swung her legs over the side of the bed and cautiously made her way out of the room, in the dark. It was kind of early to be getting up, but that was happening a lot lately, and not just to her.

She found her glasses in the bathroom, wandered out to the kitchen and punched the button on the coffeemaker until the red light popped on and the noises started. She checked the digital thermometer, the third step in her routine, then opened the blinds on the kitchen window. Thirty-five degrees, and everything outside had that dark, wet look. Something was falling out of the sky. She could see it reflecting light from the string of Christmas lights she’d arranged on the patio, but it was hard to tell if it was rain or snow. Probably rain, but the temperature was dropping. They wouldn’t be seeing a sunrise today.

She and her husband had recently moved “up north” to the family farm in Wisconsin. Her mom was not liking being alone since dad had died. Her brother Dennis and his wife lived close but they were in a different stage of life, with younger children and an expanding business to deal with. It made sense for them to pack up and go help. It made more sense in the summer than in the winter, but oh well…

She and her mom, more often than not, found each other about this time in the morning and had the first cup of coffee of the day while watching the sun come up. Mom, especially, had a fascination with the sky and clouds and would raise the blinds on the east windows, wanting to see what would happen out there that day. They would talk, solve world problems as they jokingly called it. Shirley also had the sky watching disease and usually jumped up three or four times to step outside and snap pictures.

That’s why the photo gallery on her phone was predominately orange, red, pink, purple, with sunrises and sunsets. They were all amazing pictures, but how could they not be? It wasn’t her talent that made them amazing. She was not yet a photographer. She was also not yet an author. She was not yet a grandmother. “Not yet” was kind of like her title of nobility. She was not yet a lot of things, but most importantly she was not yet dead. She was going to make the most of that one.

A while later, breakfast out of the way, she was over at her brother’s place of business. Her brother was an entrepreneur and owned a small awards and recognition company, doing most of their business online out of a neat, up to date building only a short walk away from her mom’s condo.  The prospect of getting some employment there was part of the reason she had made the move north from Florida to live with mom.

She was in the learning phase of making plaques for a sports team. Being “not yet” a proficient worker and having just made some wrong cuts, necessitating a complete do over on a print job, she was glad to stop when her sister in law came in the shop.

“Are there some packages here for us? Dennis said they were here but I don’t see them in his office.” M.P. said as she took off her gloves and outer layer of winter armor. She fished her cell phone out of her pocket and started flipping through photos.

“Claire flew back from Duluth last night, in a small plane. A friend of hers rented the plane for a week and he needed to get in some hours for his next level. She took some great pics from the air of the Christmas lights in Bentleyville. Oh, and did you see what Dennis found back in the meadow yesterday?” She stopped her searching and held out her phone.

On it was a picture of the meadow behind the barn and the large brush pile that had been growing there for over a year. There was a rather large, rounded out hole showing in the pile.

“You wouldn’t believe,” she went on “someone made some kind of fort there. It looks like they’ve been making a fire outside too. Dennis can’t figure it out. No one has seen anyone out there. He was thinking of burning the pile, and what if someone had been hiding in there?”

Shirley Not Yet looked at the photo. “I was just out there a day ago. I didn’t see anything like that.”

“That’s what Dennis said too. It’s really hard to see if you stay on the path. The entrance is on the other side.”

“Did it look like anyone was staying there?”

“No, nothing was in it except a cup. But there had been a campfire outside, so someone had to have been there for a while.”

Shirley had made a few forts as a kid, but not usually in winter and she certainly never thought of starting fires and hanging out. It sounded like more of an adult thing. The thought of an unknown adult spending time in the meadow where she frequently walked was… unsettling, maybe.  Likely not dangerous though. She decided to go out and have a look.

——————————————————————

Incognito, that was the focus. If you blend in, don’t get noticed, make use of what’s around you, but be careful, you’ll be safer. It had only taken about three hours to build the shelter. After pulling out a bunch of debris from the pile, he had found the pallets and even a sheet of old plywood. He’d made four “lean tos” and put them together with the plywood over the top. Water would run off and it would stay dry inside. Piling the brush around the outside hid everything. It was perfect. Done close to dusk, no one had noticed. The fire was kept small and smokeless.

All of his life he’d had opportunities to practice survival. It was kind of a passion with him. Well, who wouldn’t want to survive?

 

 

 

Mystery in the Meadow

20181219_1138041622788714238647754.jpgThe pile had been growing for a couple of seasons. Downed trees from the bad storm a year ago, a  whole summer’s worth of fallen limbs, old pallets that he didn’t need – he’d hauled it all out to the meadow behind the barn. It was dry and ready to be torched. That was the one of the things on his list now that the weather was cold and the ground was wet from snow that had melted.

It wasn’t that kind of melting that meant spring. It was only December, the month of cold and early dark. He was thinking of the burn pile and other chores as he did a routine walk through the meadow and surrounding wetlands. It was a favorite winding down time near the end of his work day. He skirted the barn, crossed over the small creek and around the pond and surveyed the pile.

It looked different somehow. He had been out with his machine and pushed it up around the edges, but some of the larger logs looked oddly placed. He strode over and walked around the pile, trying to remember just how he’d last seen it. There was no doubt that something had changed.

20181219_1137183118489201353298995.jpgComing around the side away from the barn and out of sight from the path, he saw what was left of a small campfire about ten feet away from the pile. That was new. Someone had been here long enough to enjoy sitting around a fire.

Had he forgotten giving someone permission to use the meadow? It was his private property and although he allowed some friends and local residents to walk the paths around the wetlands it was hard to imagine any of them hanging out for any length of time, not in the weather they’d been having recently. And there was just something not quite right about that pile…

He was just about finished circling the perimeter when he noticed it. A gaping hole in the side opened into the interior of the piled up brush.  Kneeling down and peering in, he was amazed. There was enough room in there for a couple of people to roll out sleeping bags. The sides and top had been supported by pallets and piled high with tree trunks and brush. The whole pile had been re-engineered into a shelter, and a pretty cool one at that. It was empty, thank goodness.

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He couldn’t think of anyone who could have done it, and remarkably, without being seen. Maybe kids? There were lots of them out on Christmas break, probably bored and needing something to do. A vagrant? It was a bit drafty but definitely better than no shelter at all, and there was plenty of dry wood left to burn to keep warm.  What really bothered him was the thought of how he could have set the thing on fire with someone hiding inside. Not a good thought…

He sure wasn’t going to wait out there until someone showed up, so he decided to leave a note. He snapped a picture with his phone and went back to the house for paper and pen. The note went something like this:

“Hi. Whoever built this, please call me. You’re not in trouble. This is really cool but I am concerned about your safety. I was planning to burn this and add to it, and I did not know about this. Thanks. Dennis, Property Owner.”

He finished it off with a phone number and tacked it to a log inside the entrance where it couldn’t be missed. Now to wait.

 

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To be continued…

I’m dressed.

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Hangers, lots of them.

“So, I’m telling you don’t worry about your life, what you’re going to eat or drink next, about your latest aches and pains, about what you will wear. Is a meal the most important thing in your life? Is what you wear more important than the body you put it on?”  Jesus in Matthew 6:25

No, I thought. What I wear has become much less an issue since moving to the deep freeze (Wisconsin). The desire to look a certain way when seen, doesn’t know what to do with itself when I’m hardly ever seen anywhere. When I’m seen, I’m pretty much always wearing my coat.

I often go to Walmart but you know I’m not going to worry about looking good there. I’d rather blend in.

Even at church, where my childhood habit of wearing my Sunday best ought to kick in, I’m more often in my flannel shirt uniform. People who walk or drive long distances to get somewhere in freezing weather have to think about dressing to prevent hypothermia if their car breaks down or if there’s a stiff wind. I’m trying to remember the last time I saw a woman in a dress.

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It’s a nice closet, and much better than squeezing into the one in our bedroom, with the husband’s things.

My clothes were a major part of what I packed to move up here. There were boxes of winter things, some of which had not seen much action in thirty years of Florida weather. I decided the large double closet in the garage was the most logical place for my things – it’s handy, right outside the kitchen door and only a few steps from our bedroom. I had to buy hangers, lots of them. Most everything fits there. It’s a little weird, but not a problem if I plan ahead.

But now that winter is here, and we’re keeping the garage at a lower temperature, I’m opting not to go out there as often. I have found that I can wear the same clothes for days at a time if I’m careful. My big accomplishment this week is going five days in the same pair of jeans. In a previous life this would have been wrong on several levels, but not here, not now. Don’t judge. Seattle daughter would be happy to know that her blue sweater gift is on it’s fourth day too.

Did you know that washing clothing unnecessarily is creating a cloth fiber plague in our water and air? It’s true. I read it on the internet. Even fish caught in the ocean have cloth fibers in their flesh, and we eat that. Yuk. So I’m not washing my clothes either. Well, not as often. If I can’t see the dirt, they’re not dirty. Try it. Saves on detergent too.

That whole section in Matthew 6 says a lot about clothes and worry and I’m taking it to heart. I’m just sayin’ – there’s no sense in running after things that God has already given me plenty of.

Is unfashion a word? Did I make that up?

Hello Winter

Although it might sound like I’m complaining, I’m calling it explaining. Northern Wisconsin is a special place, with special conditions that are a bit extreme at times. I’m happy to be here and I’ll deal with it…

I know it’s winter everywhere in this hemisphere, but it’s like REALLY winter here. It’s only 16 days away from the shortest day of the year. They seem shorter than I remember.

I think my sister-in-law has detected some seasonal affective disorder craziness going on and has offered me a light box. I need to read up on SAD. There is definitely a shortage of light here, “up north”. It’s been overcast for the last week or more, and it’s almost like the sun never comes up. It looks like dusk even in the middle of the day.  By 4:30 street lights are coming on and by 5 it’s pitch dark. This makes for a pretty long night.

I miss the colors of fall, spring and summer. It’s not that snow isn’t pretty because it can be stunning.

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Stunning, right?

But many days are so gray, in all directions, that it’s hard to believe there are that many gray things in the world. Here at Par Place, we are not in the woods so there is a lot of sky visible. On cloudy days half the field of view, from the horizon up, is varying shades of dirty white, soft gray, to angry gray.  The other half almost mirrors the same shades, with the snow and a few dark green pines thrown in once in a while. Some days a light sprinkle of snow falls constantly. Several days this week there was wind, steady wind, coming off an iceberg somewhere north of here.

One of the windy nights, we were awakened by a noise, repeating itself at random intervals. I tried to figure out what was rapping on the outside wall of our bedroom, until I remembered a clothesline I had coiled up and hung on a nail. It was worth waking up to see the night sky, with the clouds and the moon, and the wind.

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the night sky

So, I’ll borrow the light box.  I’ll walk on the treadmill if I can’t get myself outside. I’ll try not to stay up too late at night, reading (which I’m prone to do). I will keep busy with all the things I’ve heard people do here, in the winter, in the house, in the dark.  I’ll wait for December 22, when the days start getting longer.