Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Okay, I finally gave in to the Sudoku craze and thought I'd try it out and see if I liked it. After all, there are Sudoku books plastered before your face in every store you enter, and everywhere I go, I overhear people talking about it. What finally made me gave in is the other day I was standing in line at AC Moore, and overheard a lady saying, "So and so plays that game, did you know?" The person she was speaking to replied, "No, I'll have to call her and see what strategies she uses!"

Ah, strategy. My downfall. I love strategy games, always have. I like a challenge. So when I got home, I went to Yahoo Games, and selected Sudoku. Read the rules, and got started on their beginning puzzle. Now I solved it quickly and easily, but I understood that was the beginner puzzle -- it's supposed to be easy. I'll try a medium one now and see if I can figure that out, thinketh I.

Now it's definitely a timetaker -- it takes a long time to fill in all those squares and start narrowing them all down and finally ending up with the solution. But it was just as easy as the first puzzle, in my opinion. I was never challenged, I never came to a point where I couldn't figure out what else could be done and I had to stop and think, I never got stuck. And the challenge is what I like about logic puzzles...

So I tried the hard level. Same thing. Took some time, but never got to a point where I had to think. This game is nuts, I thought! Who wants to spend an hour filling in little boxes when it's obvious once they're all filled in what needs to go where? And I quit.

Until the next day. Maybe yahoo just isn't hard enough, I thought. These games are everywhere! Books and books of them! There MUST be harder puzzles out there, that challenge you and really make you think, or people wouldn't keep doing them! So I searched the internet until I found a site with four levels -- easy, medium, hard, and EVIL. Ahhh, an EVIL puzzle -- right up my alley!

Now it was a little more challenging, in that there were a couple times I had to go down the columns or across the rows to look for a number that could be determined definitely instead of just glancing and filling as I did the other three puzzles. But I still came to a solution without a whole lot of brainwork. So I just don't get it. Why is this such a craze? Why so popular?

And don't get me wrong, I'm not just saying I'm too smart for these puzzles -- I know better! When I purchase logic puzzle books, I get stumped on some of the moderates, and you can just forget the difficult ones. When I play Paint by Numbers which is similar to the type of logic needed for Sudoku, I often get stuck for periods of time on the harder puzzles, and sometimes I'm so stumped I can't finish them. So it's not that I'm saying I'm smart -- I'm just saying Sudoku, at least the puzzle I tried, including the evil one, is too easy!!

If anyone reading this is a huge Sudoku fan, please let me in on what I'm missing. Are there truly challenging puzzles out there somewhere that I'm just missing? WHY are you hooked on Sudoku? Why would the person in the line at the store want to call someone to discuss strategies? I didn't even need to think up any strategies!! Please help clue me in! :o)

Saturday, February 24, 2007


Today I want to share a little bit with you about the ministry I am most passionate about: Compassion International. There are lots of wonderful organizations out there to help feed the hungry, and a number of good child sponsorship programs, but Compassion is simply the best! With many ministries, I often feel like, "What difference does my tiny contribution actually make anyway?", but not with Compassion. You can't change the world -- but you can change the world for one child, and you actually get to watch exactly what your involvement does in the life of that child as he or she grows. Not only are physical needs met, but the child's spiritual needs are met, as well, and that is, after all, what truly changes their life.

Compassion has no set way that they work, or set things that they provide for their sponsored children. It's very flexible and variable, depending on the country, the community, and the particular needs of the child and family. They may provide anything from basic necessities such as food, clothing, or housing assistance to other needs such as medical care or schooling. They partner with local evangelical churches in the areas where they work and let that local body make a lot of the decisions about what is provided and to whom, but they very closely monitor how the funds are used and how the programs are run to ensure they comply with Compassion's goals and remarkable financial integrity.

What I really love about the way Compassion works now is that you can actually select the child you wish to sponsor on their website. Years ago, you could choose a gender and a country, but that was it -- they selected the child for you. Now you can actually browse through pictures of all children awaiting a sponsor and choose the one you want. You can search by country, by age, by gender, by birthday, or even children with specific disabilities or who are orphans. What you "get" is an information card about your child with a picture (which is updated on a yearly basis) and a minimum of two letters per year from your child, or in the case of a very young child, from a teacher or family member of the child. Some children choose to write more often. You have no limitations on how often you write your child, and you can even send your letters via email to be printed and translated for the child, if you wish. It doesn't get much easier than that! You can send flat paper-like gifts such as stickers and bookmarks along with your letters if you like. You also have the option of giving your child birthday and Christmas gifts -- you supply the amount of money you want to give (limited to $25 and two gifts per year) and the child's Compassion workers will use the money to buy something your child needs or wants.

Now, I want you to meet my Compassion children.

Staurin is 15 years old, and lives in the Dominican Republic. When I first began sponsoring Staurin at the age of 8, his picture showed a very somber child, and his information card indicated that he was performing below average in school. Staurin has blossomed into a wonderful young man. His grades are excellent and he plans to get further schooling when he finishes high school so that he can become an engineer. He has two older sisters and a younger brother, who sometimes like to send pictures with Staurin's letters, as well. Staurin nearly always has something exciting to share that he has just learned in Sunday School, such as a favorite verse or Bible story, and asks in every letter how he can pray for me. His mother always sends her love.

Angie is a real sweetheart. She is almost ten years old, and lives in Colombia. Angie was only 4 when I began sponsoring her, so her teenage sister and her mother sent the first few letters, and they were both such kind and gracious people. Now, of course, Angie writes her own letters, and she writes often!! She sends pictures of herself and her little sister from time to time on her own, separate from the yearly pictures that Compassion sends, and I have so enjoyed watching her grow. She is always so compassionate and thoughtful in her letters, and she thanks me constantly for supporting her so that she can go to her Compassion center, because she enjoys the activities they host for the children and the friends she has there so much. She dearly loves Jesus, and even at her young age, has written me that she is seeking the will of God for her life. Last Christmas, as I was shopping for dolls for my niece, I so wanted to be able to send Angie a doll, but of course, due to customs regulations, I couldn't do that. How happy I was to receive a letter from Angie soon after Christmas thanking me for the beautiful doll I gave her -- her Compassion worker had selected a doll for her with the Christmas money I sent!

Marsabi is my newest little girl. She is four years old and lives in Mexico. I chose Marsabi because she was born on the same day as my niece. My plan is that as they grow up together, they can be penpal friends, and this will help my niece to realize in a very personal way that there are children who are not as fortunate as she is, but we can help those children.

I urge you to visit Compassion's website today at http://www.compassion.com today and look through the pictures of children awaiting a sponsor. Each child has a story of their own, and you can be part of it. The cost is only $32 a month. You remain a child's sponsor until they age out of the program (usually at 18, but those attending college may stay a little longer), although if circumstances should at some point cause you to be unable to keep that commitment, you have the option of leaving the program and Compassion will find another sponsor for your child. If you have children, what a wonderful way to teach them to care for others, and to learn about another part of the world. You could do as I did and choose a child the same age as your child so they can grow up together, write letters, send pictures, share their interests, and have a friend somewhere across the world. Trust me -- it's a decision you'll never regret.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Remembering Pappaw

Our family is missing its patriarch. A year ago today we said our final goodbyes.

His was a beautiful death, if anything about death can possibly be beautiful.

But let's back up a bit first. Ours was a close-knit family. My grandparents had four children -- their son lived several hours away, but their three daughters all lived nearby. We all went to the same church, and every Sunday afternoon was spent at my grandparents' house, the entire family together. Sunday afternoons are still spent there by all family members who are in town, in fact.

We lived next door to my grandparents. One set of cousins came home from school with us each day until their parents got off work, and the other set only lived about a mile away and were over all the time. Pappaw loved his grandchildren, although he often accused us of raising his blood pressure. :o) And so we all grew up spending probably as much time with Mammaw and Pappaw as we did with our own parents.

Fast forward to the present. Pappaw developed Alzheimer's in the last years of his life. It crept up on him over the years as he struggled more and more to remember, and last December he entered the final stage of the disease. On Christmas Eve just over a year ago, I sat with him for several hours as he picked up the pictures of his children and grandchildren and asked me over and over and over again who they were. At one point, after asking repeatedly about his children and what they were doing, their families, their jobs, etc., he said in amazement, "Three teachers and a nurse? You mean, every one of my kids turned out good?" I said, "Yes," and he replied, "Well that sure is something, because I was one son of a gun!" :o) He then called in to my grandmother and proudly announced, "Guess what! I just got acquainted with... -- what kin did you say you were to me again? -- I just got acquainted with my granddaughter!"

By mid-February, he had deteriorated so much that we knew his time was very short, a matter of days. I came in for the weekend to say goodbye. My grandmother went with me to his bedside when I arrived and said to him, "Look who came to see you! Do you know who this is?" She was always questioning him, trying to help him preserve his memory. I was surprised she was still doing it at this point, as it had been three or four months since he'd remembered any of us other than my grandmother and my little niece that he just adored. But then he responded with a nod, and said my name! "And you remember who she's married to?" my grandmother prompted, and he responded with my husband's name. My grandmother looked at me and smiled, "He got his mind back! He knows all of us. God has given him back to us one last time before He takes him home for good. Now we can tell him goodbye, and he knows us and can tell us goodbye too."

He was very weak. He could only lay in bed, he could barely lift his arm to shake his finger when he talked, something that had always been part of his way of communicating. His speech was a great effort, and came out as barely more than a whisper, and he could only say a couple of words at a time. But his mind was back, and although his hospice workers had given us morphine to administer as needed, he kept assuring us he was in no pain at all, and didn't need it.

Because his last days were so obviously his last days, it gave everyone in the family an opportunity to come see him, and to say goodbye. I'm glad of that; the closure is good. You have your chance to say whatever you feel you need to say, without the regrets that one might have when someone close dies suddenly and you realize all the things you wish you could tell them, but now can't. We had our opportunity to say all those things, knowing the end was very close.

My grandfather and I had several things that were special to our relationship. One was that we saluted each other to say goodbye instead of waving or hugging as others did. I don't know when or how it got started, but I've done it since I was fairly young. Another, and again I have no idea why he started this, was that every time I left, he had to tell me to make sure I watched out for planes, trains, and automobiles. After he'd said it hundreds of times, he stopped saying it and just asked, "What are you supposed to watch for?" and I had to answer before I could leave. When his memory started slipping, my grandmother made sure to keep that a constant -- she always reminded him what he was supposed to say to me before I left. And he called me "The Kid". I had a special rhythm I always used to knock on their door if I went up to visit and found it locked, and without fail, every time I knocked, I immediately heard Pappaw calling to my grandmother, "The Kid's here!"

So of course, when I said my last goodbye to him, he forced out the words, "What... watch for...?" After I answered, I saluted him, as always, and he tried to lift his hand but just couldn't get it up very high. I said, "I know you're saluting me too," and he nodded.

The next day was amazing. I wasn't there, I had to go back home, but my aunts, mother, and grandmother witnessed it all. He was awake all day long (he had been awake only for a few minutes then would sleep for an hour, all day and night for the past week or so), and he saw heaven and had enough energy to tell about it. His eyes were darting all over the place, looking at things that the rest of them couldn't see. Sometimes he would tell them what he was seeing. "Beautiful water!" he would exclaim, eyes shining in delight, and this a man who had been afraid of water his entire life. "A beautiful orchard -- with apple trees!" "Beautiful sky!" Everything was beautiful. And then he began to see the people. His brother. His father-in-law. Other friends and relatives who have gone on before him. "I see God's people," he said then, "They want me to come." He remained in his right mind and still knew who everyone was, where he was, what was happening to him. This was not hallucination. Others may be skeptical, but I know my grandfather, and I know this was real. He'd been holding on because he didn't want to leave us; a glimpse of the place he was going was the impetus he needed to finally let go.

He slipped into a coma not long after this and never awoke again on this earth. His wife and three daughters were at his side when he went home.

This is why I say his death was beautiful. It was definitely a blessing from God in that he got his mind back, he wasn't in any pain, he didn't linger in that terrible state for long, but he did linger long enough that his family members were able to come in to tell him goodbye, and that he was able to glimpse heaven and share those little bits of it with us before going there for good. The most beautiful part of his death was our assurance that he is indeed in a better place and someday we'll be joining him. I just know when I get to heaven, Pappaw will be part of my welcoming committee, and I wouldn't be surprised if the first words out of his mouth were to exclaim, "The Kid's here!"

Until then -- I miss you, Pappaw. See you in heaven.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Psalm 116:15

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

My Introduction to "Little House"

Pretty much everyone who knows me knows I'm very interested in -- okay, obsessed with -- author Laura Ingalls Wilder and her "Little House" books. But how did this obsession begin? Who was responsible for introducing me? It's really a somewhat interesting story, so I thought I'd share it today.

When my mother was a little girl, her bookmobile driver recommended that she read Little House in the Big Woods. She took his advice and checked out the book, and when she returned it the next week, the bookmobile man asked her if she liked it. When she said she did, he led her back to the shelf and showed her the rest of the "Little House" books lined up there, and said, "Look -- all of these books are about that same little girl." So she read them all, and of course, she was hooked.

Now interestingly enough, that bookmobile driver had a brother. And that brother was raising his young nephew. And that nephew, when he was grown, married my mother. So the person responsible for introducing my mother to the "Little House" books, and who was thus indirectly responsible for my obsession with the series, is none other than my great-uncle's brother. He had no idea what he was starting... :o)

Now back then, my mother wasn't into "Little House" like I am into "Little House". She liked the books, and when Michael Landon's television series came on, of course she watched it and enjoyed it, although she obviously recognized from the beginning how much the show strayed from the books. But that was pretty much the extent of it.

Well. I discovered the "Little House" books on my mother's bookshelf when I was three years old and insisted she read them to me. She said I wasn't old enough for them yet, but I protested that they had a little girl on the front, so they must be little girl books and I wanted to read them. What could she say to that? So she read them to me, and I loved them from the start.

Now I read and reread those books several times throughout my childhood, but in seventh grade, I became friends with another "Little House" fan. She knew a girl who had a book called The Story of the Ingalls, which contained information about the real Ingalls family and what became of each of them after the series ended. She told me all she could remember, which wasn't nearly enough to satiate either of us.

We discovered a biography about Laura at the library, written by Donald Zochert. We devoured the book and all of the information it had to offer, but to us, the treasure trove was found in the very back of the book: a list of addresses to all of the Little House museums scattered across the midwest. We wrote to them all, and they sent brochures about their sites as well as order forms for their gift shops. The Story of the Ingalls was available through those gift shops, as were many many other booklets about the various people and places of the Little House books by the same author, William Anderson.

As the years passed, we managed to accumulate them all, and in 1993, my family took its first "Little House" vacation, visiting each and every one of Laura's Little Houses. How excited I was to discover that we had planned our trip quite by accident to be the very weekend that William Anderson, who had become quite the hero to our young Laura-obsessed brains, was going to be there signing books.

Since then, I've taken many trips back (and seen Bill Anderson so many times that the thrill has worn off, I'm sorry to say), some of which were with that same friend from junior high. Those little towns seemed so very far away to us then that we never would have dreamed that someday we'd be visiting them together.

Perhaps there's another fan in the making reading this here today, and wondering just where ARE all those real Little House sites? Send me a message and you will quickly learn all you could possibly care to know! Seriously!! And if you've never read the "Little House" books -- how much you've missed!! I highly recommend you rectify that and pick up your copy of Little House in the Big Woods today. No excuses that they are "children's books", the online community of "Little House" fans includes almost NO children, and many hundreds of grown women, and even a handful of men. Why don't you join us today? :o)

The Fragrance of Sweet-grass

Captain Jim had come up that afternoon to bring Anne a load of shells for her garden, and a little bunch of sweet-grass which he had found in a ramble over the sand dunes.

"It's getting real scarce along this shore now," he said. "When I was a boy there was a-plenty of it. But now it's only once in a while you'll find a plot--and never when you're looking for it. You jest have to stumble on it--you're walking along on the sand hills, never thinking of sweet-grass--and all at once the air is full of sweetness-- and there's the grass under your feet. I favor the smell of sweet-grass. It always makes me think of my mother."

"She was fond of it?" asked Anne.

"Not that I knows on. Dunno's she ever saw any sweet-grass. No, it's because it has a kind of motherly perfume--not too young, you understand--something kind of seasoned and wholesome and dependable--jest like a mother. The schoolmaster's bride always kept it among her handkerchiefs. You might put that little bunch among yours, Mistress Blythe. I don't like these boughten scents-- but a whiff of sweet-grass belongs anywhere a lady does."

-Anne's House of Dreams, by L.M. Montgomery

Sweet-grass... it's getting scarce, you can't find it when you're looking for it, you just stumble across it never thinking of it, and all at once, the air is filled with sweetness.

I think lessons in life are much like sweet-grass. They don't just happen every day. You can't seek them out. You just go on living your life, and every now and then you stumble across them. They change your life and once the lesson is learned and applied, they can fill your life with sweetness.

Seasoned, wholesome, dependable, ladylike... qualities that those life lessons produce as a girl matures into a woman, and then continues to mature into a true lady.

I'd like to share one of my own lessons in life this morning, a fragrance of sweet-grass that is helping me to grow in the department of relationships.

A dear friend, also fond of author L.M. Montgomery from whose book came the preceding quotation, once gave me a basket made of sweet-grass. I wish that I could put the basket up to the screen and let you take a whiff of its sweet fragrance. She must have searched the entire province of Nova Scotia to find the little basket, and the fragrance of sweet-grass reminds me of her, and the lesson I learned through her.

I lost touch with this friend several years ago. It was understandable; our friendship was sustained primarily through the computer and she became so ill that she was unable to sit up to be on the computer anymore. I called a couple of times. But I could have done so more often, and should have. But life is so busy, you know? My time was so filled with so many other things, that taking a few minutes here and there to give her a call just didn't happen.

My friend lives in heaven now, and there are no more chances to make up for that lost time. All the months and years I could have called her and didn't, all the conversations, the tears, and the laughter we could have shared, but didn't, those are all missed opportunities now. I can never talk with her or share with her again in this life. And I miss her, and regret that I didn't spend the time with her when I could have.

The fragrance of sweet-grass reminds me that this life is short, and we can't take much with us. One thing we can take with us, however, is people, and that realization has caused me to make relationships with others a high priority. So what if I'm busy with something when a friend calls or writes? The friend has priority, because the friendship is lasting. The friendship will exist in heaven, assuming that person is going to heaven, and if they aren't, I had better make it a priority to try to change that!

This applies not only to neglect, but especially to arguments. Obviously, disagreements will occur from time to time in any close relationship, and are sometimes necessary. But contention that drives apart friends and destroys relationships, holding onto anger and bitterness, holding a grudge over a past hurt, intentional or not -- life is simply too short to ruin friendships with those things. How much better to simply forgive, let go of the negatives, and preserve or restore the relationship.

Not to say that I've achieved all of this -- no, I'm very much a work in progress. But I've made progress, and it is my goal to press on until this lesson is complete in my life.

Someday, when I see my friend again in that beautiful land where the ugly things of this life can exist no more, I must thank her for helping me realize this at such a young age, when I most likely still have decades ahead of me to prioritize people. And that life lesson is what I remember when I think of my friend, or when I smell the fragrance of sweet-grass.