Thought For Today

I am so glad that you have found this site and I hope you will find encouragement and joy as you read through my thoughts on God, family and life.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Finding Peace and Joy

A blanket of mist covers the land and it asks the Earth to sleep a bit longer.

Today the weather here in Minnesota is cold and the land has one to two feet of snow blanketing the ground.  It feels and looks more like January than the middle of March.  Oh well, we could have more snow and it could be colder out.  I sure hope that when spring arrives, it comes on a weekend!  Enough with the gloom and doom, we have a good life that God has provided for us, and complaining only darkens our world and takes away the blessings that God has provided for us by blinding our hearts to his goodness that is all around us.  (Matt. 14: 15-16 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.)
God did not promise us beautiful sunny days with happiness throughout. What he did promise us was an inner joy that transcends the circumstances that we sometimes find ourselves in.  (Phil. 4:7)  Now if one was to think about it for a moment, what is more important, to seek after continual happiness that is determined always by external circumstances, or finding peace within?  The former leaves one like the person in a small boat out at sea, always at the mercy of the things around him, tumultuous seas or calm.  Is that possible or realistic, as one has to admit, it does not.  God has so much to teach us in order for us to grow. Some of those lessons require sacrifice and loss, while others are filled with joy and calm.  One person once said that it would be difficult to appreciate happiness if we only knew that and nothing else. 
Mississippi river waiting for Spring.
So, how does one find this joy and peace?  (Romans 15: 4-6 says,  “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures, and the encouragement they provide, we might have hope.”
 “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement, give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”)
We then see that the way to joy and peace is found by reading God’s word, and receiving the instruction and support that our Lord gives when reading and understanding scripture.  Each time before opening the Bible I ask God to open my mind to understand what he would have me to learn.  I know that it does not consist of any formulaic pattern, God speaks to those that desire his will and want all that he has for them, that is, with his plan for our lives.  God’s word in Jeremiah 29: 11 states, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” 
Seek God this week by talking with him, and reading his word.  Soon you will find that his path for your life will bring you the peace and help that you seek.
Winter Wood near Winona, Minnesota

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Making Dreams Come True

Abby and Will digging tunnels.

During this past week I found myself blowing out my driveway several times.  If I recall, last year during the month of March, it was getting close to 60 degrees by now.  How it has changed from one year to the next.  It is what makes life interesting, the unexpected.

Will enjoying the fresh snow.
I was sitting thinking about various things from my childhood the other day as I was watching my children having fun together.  They were role-playing different characters as they play-acted.  This started me thinking about how children are so good in pretending to be different characters, and of acting out various careers throughout their playtime.  As adults we sometime dismiss this play as futile dreaming that does not produce practical results.  But does this play do more than that? 

Psychologists say that when children act out by playing different roles and role models, they are actually imitating those that they wish to be.  It is much like a little girl who when attempting to fit into mommy’s clothing, she is actually trying out being a mommy as well as a grown lady.  Boys on the other hand want to play with tools, and they are many times being daddy or someone they know or have seen on TV or read about in a book.  These roles that they play are what gives way to dreaming, and continuing on later with the groundwork for making these fantasies into reality.

When growing into adults though, we are sometimes told that dreaming is not fruitful, and that it does not put food on the table.  Because of what we are told then, we unlearn our natural God given instinct to dream.  Consequently, we give up these dreams for more “practical” avenues of life.  Is this right and true to go down this path?  Some say yes, while those few that are encouraged to dream into adulthood, chose to go down a different road.  It is unfortunate that we sometimes in the adult world say that a person is unproductive if they are a “dreamer.”  But again, is that true?  I trust that there has to be a balance between allowing a person to dream, and that of putting feet under those dreams.  I believe it is the responsibility of adults, and we as teachers to continue to and instill in children and adults to dream.  It is what created this nation and the wonderful things that we have today. 

When marrying into my wife’s family, I was struck by their constant dreaming and planning over things.  At first it bothered me that “feet” were not put under every one of these dreams.  “One must be practical in their approach to life!”  Instead, I chose not to get frustrated with my wife and her family in their futile dreaming.  I just left the room when this process started to take place with Anne and her family.  But over time I began to see that I was the one that needed changing.  At first, I thought because I loved my wife, that I would let her dream, and talk about them to her family, because it would make for a more harmonious relationship between us.  But then over time I began to change unsuspectingly in my views over the “what ifs.” 

Many times over the course of our marriage I saw that Anne’s dreams did in fact bare fruit for Anne and her family.  It started to make sense that in the process of dreaming about things, that it was indeed the first steps into making them a reality.  Much like trying to find a way to a location that you have never been to before.  One first tries a particular street, and if that does not take you to your destination, then you go another way until it does.  I soon came to realize that what Anne and her family still possessed, was their childhood ability to dream.  What happened to me that made me chose to believe that concrete goals are the most important way into making things possible?  How did I lose my way? 

A big part of childhood is dreaming about the “what ifs.”  I recall reading in the Bible, when the apostles and others tried to keep the children from talking to Jesus.  My first impression from this passage was, “This is an adult ‘real’ world kids, go back to playing in your impractical games with other children.  We have greater things to accomplish than to have you bother Jesus with your na├»ve ways.”  In Mark 10:13 Jesus tells the adults to allow the children to come to him, “For the kingdom of God belongs to those such as these.”  Jesus later when speaking to God in prayer (Matt. 11:25) refers to his adult followers as children.  In this prayer, Jesus praised God for revealing himself to his children (disciples) and not to the wise and learned.  Jesus was referring to these adults as children, not because they acted immature, it was because they believed as a child would.  A belief in that all things are possible with Christ, while still having a childlike faith in a God who loves them, and wishes to take care of them as well. 

But does having dreams without the gradual maturity into adulthood produce the fruits needed to make them possible?  The apostle Paul in writing to the Hebrews admonished these Hebrew Christians, he said that they needed to start eating the meat of faith and leaving the milk of childhood behind.  Paul was not asking them to stop dreaming, believing and trusting as a child, he was encouraging them to put feet under their beliefs, with actions that allowed their faith to come to fruition.  (Hebrews 5:11)

So as one can see, there is a balance in our growing up into the many facets of our lives as Christians, and as adults who have the faith of a child.  A belief that all things are possible because our Lord made it so.  God has instilled in us to dream, it is in our nature that he created within us.  It is what gives us hope, and a belief that tomorrow will be better because we believe it to be so, and because of this, those that dream make it possible.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Early Morning Cat

Early Morning Cat

Many of us have animals as pets in our homes.  They are for the most part, very nice additions to our lives.  At times though like each of us, they too can be a challenge with their unusual habits.  For some of you readers, you know that we have a cat named Toby because I written about her in past.  She was a stray that adopted us as her family.  One day she showed up in our meadow, and me being a softy, tossed food out to her since I was first to see her.  She was very thin and was apparently starving.  After having her treated for intestinal parasites, and giving her all the shots that she needed, Toby was a part of our family.  She has now lived with us for about 4 years, and we could not imagine what life would be like without her.  She is very protective of our children and has been very patient with them when they were small.  I remember our little boy running around the house chasing her, trying to pet her with aggressive strokes that would have made me wince, that is, with the vigor of affection that Will wanted to give her. Consequently, Toby did not bite or hiss; she only headed for a part of the house she knew Will could not go to.  It would not be unusual to see her sitting patiently on the other side of a child gate, waiting for her audience to leave, so Toby could perform her cat duties that was so much a part of her daily routine. 

"This is my kitty!"
Our daughter on the other hand had different ideas for Toby.  As a two year old, Abby had a passion for dolls and dress up.  I have built her two large doll houses and Abby has loved playing with them, decorating the individual rooms and of course, dressing up her dolls.  After a period of time though, Abby wanted to have a doll that moved, and it was not unusual to walk by and see a little cat dressed up in an American Girl dress, or have some bib or doll bonnet on Toby’s head.  Toby on the other hand did not protest with this, she only went patiently along with this gentle abuse.  Toby has adopted our children as her kittens, and while loving Abby and Will very much, she is also very protective of them as well. 

Anne reading to Abby and Will.
Toby though has a few idiosyncrasies of her own.  She loves to go in and out of the house at her choosing, and will on occasion want to give a mouse to my wife when she is sitting on the porch with me, that is while having a cup of coffee early in the morning.  Anne, trying not to panic on the other hand, will attempt to ignore Toby.  This will leave our cat no choice in her mind, thus Toby will next lift the very lively mouse up to Anne’s knees, in an attempt to thrust her gift into Anne’s lap. For Toby, she obviously sees Anne as being a little dull in aptitude, not recognizing a generous gift when it laid out before her.   At this point my gentle wife will wince and pull her legs up to her chin, all the while her ladylike resolve disappears into gasps of horror.  Seeing Anne in a panic, I will gently lift Toby away and set the kitty down in the flower garden along with her rejected gift.  I look at Toby’s prize and calculate that the mouse has a 50-50 chance in disappearing in the flowerbed, if it is clever enough to escape. 

"I am very easy to love!"
When getting married, both Anne and I took time in geting used to each other and our habits.  Some of them were changed for the other's convenience, and with other pre-formed habits, we found it wise to compromise.  This arrangement has proved to be very effective in adapting to each other for our individual and collective ways of life.  When children came along though, we found ourselves adjusting further to more changes in our ways.  At each stage of our children’s development, more changes were required for both of us as parents, and for our children as well.  All in all, we have a wonderful life and enjoy each other very much.  But, there is one area that I personally struggle with, and that is with Toby waking me up at around 4 in the morning wanting to be fed.
Over the years we have found that as a family, we cannot allow Toby to feed on unlimited amounts of food laid out before her.  We found that her weight gain went up in a very short time.  We can only associate that with Toby's fear of starving, that it came with her living in the wild and always being hungry.  Consequently, with this compulsion in Toby, that is in wanting to gorge herself, we measure out her food twice a day.  We feed her once in the morning and one time in the evening, giving her around a half of a cup each time.  Toby’s weight has gone down to a normal level, and she looks now like a sleek beautifully groomed kitty.  We have made Toby a part of the family and we cannot say how much we would miss her if she was not in our lives each day.  

"I would scare Scrat away if not for this glass!"
But on the other hand, Toby has one bad habit that requires, on my part, a great deal of patience.  As I previously stated, she wants to wake me up every day around 4 a.m. to feed her.  First, Toby jumps on the bed and tries a stare down with me.  If I am asleep, of which I normally am at that time, Toby goes about as if I were awake and alert, she assumes then that I will respond to her with kind gestures, and if I ignore her (in her eyes) she then goes to plan B.  Toby next pushes her nose up against mine, this would not be so bad except that hers is very wet, and her breath is not to be found in having a fresh toothpaste smell.  What invariably happens is that I roll over and try to ignore her at this point.  Seeing this obvious rudeness on my part, she next starts to walk on my body, starting with my head and ending with my feet being compressed with tiny weighted paws.  Now if this does not get me up, Toby then begins to start purring very loudly.  At this point I think that in her mind, she appears very loving, and so, reveals this to me, of which then I will surely get her food.  I then roll over and look at the clock, and at this point I think less loving thoughts about my feline furry creature of habit.  I recall one time in telling Anne about the incident that I just described, and after sharing this with her, that is of my tormented tale, she compassionately touched me on the shoulder and said that Toby, in her mind, only wants me to get up early as I often do in the summer to play golf. “She is being a dutiful alarm clock.  Cats are a creature of habit and Toby only wants to help you get on the golf course on time.”  I wanted to believe this, but I could not find the compassion needed at this point because if that were so, then Toby would leave me alone after getting up. Instead, she follows me around the house and meows until she is fed.  After eating her fill, Toby then retreats to a chair or couch and subsequently goes to sleep. 

Toby just groomed herself.  Next, time to roll in the sand
(Now back again to our early morning Tango.)  If Toby does see that I am not overwhelmed with her show of affection for me, that is, by purring very loudly, her next course of action is to begin walking on Anne.  I then quickly notice Toby’s next ploy and gently brush her off Anne before she wakes up in a fright.  In the routine of things, Toby has devised varied methods of annoying me until I do get up.  One of these times was when I  cleverly closed the bedroom door on her.  I then felt very proud of my very obvious intellect over the beast.  “This will keep her out and I can now sleep.”  Toby though is not to be deterred.  In her attempt in not being out smarted, she then pushes up against the solid core oak door.  For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and for Toby, she understands this mathematical principle all to well.  She somehow knows that with each thrust given, it will give way to a loud banging noise when the door hits the stop.  Now in desperation, if this action does not work, she then starts meowing very loudly, as well as rubs up against our bedroom door with weighted gusto.  By this point I am desperate, and somewhat frustrated.  I am beginning to gave in, so I open the door and Toby enters purring away, all the while I angrly retreat to my covers.  I am almost asleep once more when I then feel the claws of a paw against my thigh.  This had an immediate effect on me, one that normally would take several cups of coffee to produce.  I found myself waking up with my heart racing and my eyes bulging out with horror.  “What in the world!”  I then looked down by my assaulted body part, only to see a kitty looking very innocent, and appearing to be waiting patiently for me to get up.  That angelic look on her whiskered face seemed to show a puzzled smile as if to say, “Whaaaat?” 

Looking for mice and chipmunks.
Abby wanted to take this picture of her kitty.
I am not usually a person that gets riled very easily, but waking up with claws in my thigh, well, it brings out in me the person I am not fond of.  I know that Jesus has asked us love our enemies, but at this point my thoughts are not in line with scripture.  I am thinking very badly at this moment.  My thoughts vengefully go to that of having a cat feeder that is chucked full of food with laser sensors on the cover.  I then envision the lid closing when Toby is about to eat.  This process repeats itself in my mind over and over until I feel some sort of pay back.  The dark side of me at this point also thinks of how I will wait until Toby is asleep.  I then begin to pet Toby vigorously until she is clearly awake.  I smile, and then retreat to my bed, sleeping very soundly once again.  Later, I then repeat the same process, which wakes Toby up, and then walking away smiling knowing that she was brought out of a sound sleep as she had done for me.  These thoughts are soon released to one of feeling guilty for wanting revenge on such a poor creature.  Later after getting dressed, I find myself walking over to my kitty and petting her gently, trying to forget what had just transpired.  My next stop, after filling the cat’s dish, is to the coffee pot.  Now my day has begun, albeit sooner than I expected.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Life With Scrat the Squirrel

This morning's sunrise.
This past week has been interesting to say the least.  Competition for bird food has increased exponentially over the last couple of weeks.  The end of the winter is soon arriving, but the animals are struggling to find plentiful food sources with the added snow cover blanketing the ground.  It is not uncommon to find deer, squirrels and rabbits scurrying about below the bird feeders trying to scavenge the fallen sunflower seeds as of late.  Just last night before going to bed, I noticed a shadow below the window, and after retrieving a flashlight, in what seemed like a scary image in the dark had turned into a possum.  He didn’t seem to mind the light, but later when standing in front of my in-laws glass door, he chose not to move for my wife and daughter.  Only spits and hisses came from his mouth when Anne and Abby tried to exit to the outdoors.  About the same time, my daughter Abby was trying out her vocal cords at high C, with shrieks that I am afraid might have awakened the dead in the nearby cemetery.  Instead of scaring the possum away with Abby’s screams, the furry rat like creature took upon itself to try and out hiss Abby.  After the cacophony of screams and hisses relented, calling it a draw, it concluded with a minute of ritualistic stare downs, of which the possum later decided to give up and saunter on toward more hospitable quarters. 
What can I say, Scrat!

Our squirrels on the other hand are pretty much tame in their mannerisms, and in most cases amusing, that is, much of the time.  Abby and I were talking in the living room early in the morning on Thursday before anyone was awake, when all of a sudden; a blur went past the window.  We both looked at each other and started to laugh; Abby and I both realized that it was another failed attempt by Scrat to hit the tube bird feeder.  It had shot low and propelled itself underneath the feeder at light speed.  Abby then responded, “Super Squirrel flies again!”  We both laughed for sometime after that episode. 

Scrat with Abby's fingerprints on the glass.
Later that morning I noticed that Scrat was back at the feeder.  This time he was empting it at a record speed.  That concerned me since the birds were not getting access to needed food for this time of year.  The cardinals are now mating and will soon be starting nests with new families, and they need the extra fat and nutrients found in the sunflower seeds.  I asked Abby if she would be dutiful and scare Scrat away for me.  She readily responded with enthusiasm running up to the window, waving her arms and laughing as she tapped the glass.  This scared Scrat away for the first two times, but after that, it would take opening the window to make it jump off the feeder.  Scrat was not to be deterred; he started to ignore Abby even when she cranked the window open all the way.  At that point, I was getting concerned that Abby’s close proximity to Scrat was placing her in danger of being bitten.  I then quietly asked her to step back while I slowly cranked the window open until it hit the feeder.  That finally made Scrat jump down, all be it reluctantly. 

Anne spotted a visitor to our meadow today, a Pileated Woodpecker.
I knew that it would be a bigger problem if I did not do something about it soon.  I then asked Abby to not worry about the squirrels on the feeder.  “I will take care of it Sweetheart, you can go play now.”  “Ok daddy!”  Off she went to play with her dolls while I brainstormed what I was going to do next.  After many minutes of deep thought, I came up with what I thought was a good plan; I was going to discourage Scrat once and for all.  I next went to the refrigerator to get some of Anne’s lemon juice.  I couldn't find the juice, but I found the next best thing, lime juice.  I continued with my plan by sprinkling the juice on the cupped base of the tube feeder where Scrat sat while gorging on the seeds.  I thought this would make for a bitter licking on its furry bottom when Scrat groomed itself later.  The thought went through my mind that Scrat would be easy to spot in the near future, that is when seeing a squirrel running around with its thin lips curled around its teeth, and looking much like a person without dentures.  Thinking of this scene made me laugh.  What then transpired was very unexpected.  Scrat came up to the feeder right after sprinkling on the juice, and quickly sat down, all the while taking plentiful amounts of sunflower seeds.  I retrospect, I imagine he thought that I had put honey down on the feeder like I had done last week.   Scrat having deep respect and I soon discovered, a likeness for the sweet substance, I could only imagine he thought I was giving him dessert with his meal. 

(Swinging on by.)  Well, not quite a flying squirrel, but close!
Next what transpired was quite unexpected.  As Scrat sat there, a strange look came over his face, one filled with surprise and consternation.  In his obvious look of bewilderment and confusion, he jumped into the air, and hopped down off the feeder. Upon reaching the ground, he started to drag his posterior aggressively across the snow at light speed.  Upon reaching the silver maple, he climbed the tall tree with quick dispatch.  When arriving at the very top, he put his lower extremities into the wind, all the while twitching his tail vigorously back and forth as to air out a problem of unknown origin.  One that was obviously vexing him to no end.  The whole episode took less than a minute, but I could see that my experiment had gone the extremely wrong.  This was only confirmed when Anne, upon stepping in from the garage asked, “What is going on?”  She could see Abby and myself looking out the window, staring up at some unknown location.  I explained to her what had just transpired, and along with my intent in trying to solve the problem of the pilfered bird feed.  I could see that Anne wanted to be understanding; but she was of course right in being concerned for the poor little squirrel at the moment.  To my relief, Scrat was back at the feeder the next day without any long-term posterior issues.