Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Girl's a Girl in Any Species

Deb at TIA about to leave for Barcelona
So there we were, Spouse and I, at the airport in Venice, Italy a few weeks ago, waiting in the massive security que to board our plane.

Our long anticipated 35th wedding anniversary Mediterranean Cruise had been great fun, but we were exhausted after five countries in 15 days and anxious to get this last leg of our journey back home over.

A long line of suitcases, backpacks, purses, and totes rested at the feet of their weary owners, all travelers waiting with different degrees of impatience to partially disrobe in front of prying eyes and pass before the large screening device as their belongings rode the conveyor belt through the x-ray machine. It looked to be at least 15 more minutes before it would be our turn.

I took one last swig of my water before seeking a nearby trash can in which to toss the half-filled bottle. It was then I saw her.

Making her way boldly down the snaking procession of stalled plane-boarders was a medium-sized dog that appeared to be a beagle-bloodhound mix, dragging in her wake a uniformed security guard at the end of a short leash. I had heard about these airport sniffer dogs, trained to detect a number of illegal substances being smuggled out of the country.

This one was a proud little canine, sniffing her way confidently along, weaving through thousands of human legs while doing her job well, inspecting each bag, carry-on and tote with her large, moist, undulating black nose and then moving on to the next.  

Moving along, that is, until she reached my bags.

She passed my suitcase with no fanfare, but I'd made the mistake of sliding my 40-lb mega-mama purse off my shoulder, as always laden with everything a person could possibly need to live on a deserted island for a week, and placing it beside my carry-on to give my lopsided body a little rest before heaving it upward again when the line began moving.

The busy working dog cast a casual glance toward my purse as her furry pumping legs aimed toward Spouse's backpack. Suddenly, she halted in mid-stride. Her head literally snapped backward in a double take as her black nostrils flared and her head flew up in excitement.

Miss B (I shall call her Miss B for Beagle/Bloodhound) made a B-line right toward my purse.

Miss B became visibly more excited as she sniffed all around the exterior of my purse. Heaven help me! I thought I would puddle up right then and there like the Wicked Witch of the West in a downpour. Everyone within a quarter-mile vicinity obviously thought I was the WW of the W or at least her wayward niece as they eyed me with alarm.

I could read their minds. What kind of brazen, horrible drug-smuggling woman would pose as a regular tourist and have the audacity to STAND IN LINE BESIDE ME???

Then Miss B stuck her snout down into the interior of my purse and stood there wagging her tail as her head nearly disappeared completely into the depths of my mammoth handbag.

I noticed Miss B's handler quietly move his right hand toward the rather large handgun prominently displayed on his belt and keep it there as he asked me in heavily accented English to empty out the contents of my purse on the ground.

It was then I started to sweat. I could barely breathe. I'd read frightening stories about foreign prisons and Americans who mistakenly ended up in them. What were Italian prisons like? Were they crawling with roaches and vermin? Did they still have firing squads?

The silent crowd around us parted like the tremulous waters of the Red Sea.

I had a hard time wrestling my purse away from Miss B, who was reluctant to disengage her finely tuned sniffing apparatus from my bag, but after a little ado, I was finally was able to display the embarrassing contents for all to enjoy. And by the laughter that ensued, I'm quite sure my impromptu fellow-traveler audience enjoyed themselves immensely at my expense.  

It was hard to discern which item had interested Miss B most. It could have been the remains of a ham and cheese sandwich consumed the day before. Or the baggie of chocolate candies I'd collected from our cruise cabin pillows each night. It might have been the three granola bars, or the blueberrry muffin, or the crumbling chunk of leftover cheese pastry from breakfast.

But I'm pretty sure it was the half-eaten Snickers, because when Miss B's vacuum-cleaner nose assaulted the gooey, caramelly, chocolaty bar, her tail began beating back and forth like a clock pendulum in hyperdrive.

When the obviously irritated handler had finally managed to reinstate a little space between the quivering Miss B and the dastardly stash she had unearthed, he turned a glare on me that could melt butter.

Unlike the tittering onlookers, he was not amused. Not one smidgen.

I turned to Spouse for guidance but he was white-faced and speechlessly mortified. I mean, honestly, you'd think after being married to me for 35 years, nothing would rattle the man.

So I turned back to the nice security guard and smiled my brightest smile, shrugged my shoulders, and offered in my least criminal-like voice, "I'm sorry. I like to be prepared."

Then would you believe it? He actually rolled his eyes. I didn't think professional security people were supposed to do that. After all the crazy things they find in people's luggage? Humph. One minute I'm an international crime suspect and the next I get an insulting eye roll? Please.

So feeling properly rebuffed and humiliated, I scooped the contents of my purse back inside as the guard barked some incoherent gruff command to the canine, who instantly looked chastised and remorseful for her little faux pas. My heart went out to the poor little dog as he whisked her away. I know sniffer dogs are supposed to ignore all other smells in their quest to locate only the hidden illegal substances they've been trained to find. But who could NOT get tail-wagging excited about all that chocolate?

Miss B's handler might not get it, but I understand completely. She's a girl dog.




Thursday, October 24, 2013

Walking Today Through the Wellness Journey

Deb visits a lovely stone cottage in Scotland
A few weeks ago, a dear writer friend, Rick, happily volunteered to walk with my niece, Andie, at the annual Florida Inspirational Writers Retreat.

My niece is an awesome girl - actually, I should say woman, since she is now a junior at USF majoring in English. But she has some lifelong physical disabilities due to cerebral palsy that make it difficult for her to get around. Especially stairs like we had to climb to get to the lunch hall and then back down to the meeting room at the FIWR.

And her eyesight is extremely limited as well, so that she needs assistance finding her way around anywhere new, and sorting out written instructions and correspondence, such as the myriad of handouts we encountered at the retreat.

Knowing that I would be tied up running the show (I'm co-director and the other co-director was ill), Rick graciously volunteered to be Andie's buddy for the retreat, meeting her at the door when she arrived and walking with her throughout the entire day. He made sure she got everywhere she needed to be and thanks to him, she thoroughly enjoyed herself.

Now there's something else about Rick you must know. He also voluntarily walks with his sister-in-law during her battle against breast cancer on the other coast of Florida. That means he travels across the state nearly every weekend to just be there with her and support her in her wellness journey.

The way I see it, to walk with someone in this sense, the stronger partner subtly paces himself to the stride of the weaker, and without being condescending in the least, although at times he must actually physically support his friend, most often he simply offers emotional support and guidance. He silently sacrifices his own comfort and needs to cover those of his companion.

The weaker partner knows that she is being looked after and lovingly protected and is therefore able to relax and lean into the caring encirclement of the stronger.

Much like Papa God walks with us through our own wellness journeys.

Andie will never be "normal" but she can achieve the state of wellness, as in "It is well with my soul." Rick's sister-in-law may not regain complete physical health again in this world (although we pray she does), but she can attain wellness. Spiritual wellness.

I've always loved the words of that wonderful old hymn which were written in the mid-1800s by a man who first lost all his possessions, then his only son to illness. Soon after, all his daughters drowned at sea when their ship capsized as they traveled to Europe to be with him. Yet somehow, after losing everything he once held dear, he was able to pen these incredible words:

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

It's really a rare and incomparable opportunity for us to walk with someone on their personal wellness journey. To silently sacrifice our own comfort and needs to cover those of our companion, so that they can say in the end, "Whatever my lot ... whatever my lot, it is well with my soul."

I believe Papa God put Rick in my life as an example of walking with someone, so that I, too, can aspire to do it in the same way Papa walks with me. I want, more than anything, to be able to say in the end, "It is well ... It is well with my soul."

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The 56th Cake

A few weeks ago it was my honor and privilege to speak to a large local gathering of women. As those of us on the program met beforehand to discuss the upcoming evening, I overheard the term, "the 56th cake" mentioned several times in hushed, reverent tones.

My curiosity finally won out and I had to ask, "Will someone please tell me about the 56th cake?"

And what a story it was.

The church hosting this community women's event celebrating chocolate had been advertising and selling tickets for nearly six weeks. Many, many prayers had been sent up, asking Papa God to bless the details of this event honoring Him. A week prior to the event, 400 tickets had been sold and 50 fancy chocolate cakes were ordered from a local bakery to serve as the centerpieces of each table, and dessert for the ladies sitting there after dinner.

These were not just your run-of-the-mill chocolate cakes, they were culinary works of art, adorned with chocolate curls and doo-dads and ornate decorations that would make your saliva run like a fireman's hose when you merely glanced at one.

But in the days just before the event, a rush of orders came in for tickets, and the good ladies just couldn't bring themselves to turn anyone away. Another five cakes were rush-ordered and were to be picked up right before the event was scheduled to start.

As the designated cake-picker-upper drove to the bakery on the afternoon of the event, she received a frantic call from the church. Ten more last minute tickets had been purchased. There were nearly 500 now sold. Another table would be added. Another cake would be needed.

"But there's no way the baker can make another cake that fast," she told the caller. "And those 55 cakes were custom decorated just for us. I'll just have to try to look in their display case and see what they've got that's already made. I may have to just get a plain one. If they have any at all. Pray hard."

As she waited for the five boxed cakes to be handed over the counter, she saw that there were no other chocolate cakes in the display case remotely close to the same size or splendor of the ones they'd ordered.

In a quandary about what to do, she admitted to the lady in the white apron behind the counter that she really needed another cake. Was there anything at all they could do?

A big smile spread across her face. "I'm the baker," she said. "I have a surprise for you." She disappeared into the back room and reappeared holding another beautifully decorated cake exactly like the other 55.

"Something told me I should make an extra cake. And so I did."

Wow! Don't you just LOVE a grace note story like that? I sure do. It's a reminder that Papa God loves us dearly and is involved in every detail of our lives. Involved enough to whisper sweet somethings into the ear of a baker in order to meet a need that wasn't even a need yet.

I'd love to hear about a grace note in your life this week!    


Thursday, October 3, 2013


While I was pedaling my bike on my usual Sunday afternoon trek this week, I saw something ahead in the road. It was moving.

Braking my bike, I noticed that recent rains had elevated the level of the pond on the left side of the road and the swamp on the right, so that they were now nearly conjoined, separated only by eight feet of black ribbon road.

And there, on the hot asphalt swatch betwixt the two watery worlds, a turtle was determinedly marching.

I use that word, marching, intentionally, because this little fellow wasn't plodding, or poking, or loitering, as turtles tend to do. He was rhythmically lifting those squat spotted legs high and forward so that his his heavy shelled body was pushing forward at an impressive pace. For a turtle.

Since my bike route is rural and there were no cars coming at the moment, I stopped for a spell to watch the little guy, wondering where he was going in such an all-fired hurry. His shell was mottled with green slimy algae, indicating that his usual abode was likely beneath the surface of the waters in either the swamp or the pond.

It occurred to me that he was out marching on foreign midday asphalt this fine day for one of three reasons:

  • Adventure
  • He was running away from something 
  • He was running toward something

Now not to wax too anthropomorphic, but I thought I detected in his resolute trek down the yellow line a trace of excitement. It's adventure then, I thought. I'll bet he's never been out of Water World before. This is his first chance to see the big wonderful Earth and he's making treks before the water recedes and his opportunity is gone.

But he was in the highway. The highway. Where cars and trucks and mini-vans run over and crush flat little adventurous turtles. And wouldn't you know it, at that moment, a green pick-up appeared in the distance, heading our way.

I tried to herd the fellow over to one side of the road, but when he saw big lumbering me, he instantly closed up shop, retreating head and legs into the protection of his shell.. There he sat in the middle of the highway, thinking that he was safe from harm, not realizing his shell was no match for the two-ton vehicle of steel and chrome that would soon be bearing down on him.

So I quickly ditched my bike in the shallow water on the pond side of the road and picked him up, holding that hard place beneath the shell between his front and back legs. His head shot out immediately, snapping at me, and his legs began furiously scratching at my hands. But I hung on long enough to place him in the murky waters of the edge of the swamp, where he splashed away until he reached waters deep enough to glide beneath and disappear.

You know, I think I'm like that turtle in some ways. I need a good reason to take advantage of the opportunities presented to me, because I'm way too comfortable in in my own little Water World. And when I finally do venture out of my comfort zone into the unknown, I tend to march off without a clue of my destination.

I don't know where I'm going, but I'm sure in a hurry to get there.

At the first hint of danger, I crawl into my shell, where I perceive I'm safe, without realizing there are a whole lot of things that I know nothing about in this wide, wide world that could cause me harm.

And that's why dependency on Papa God is so important. He has a much broader view than I do. I must learn to trust Him to pick me up and move me to where I need to be, even though sometimes I snap at His fingers and try to scratch my way out of His grasp, not seeing that His intervention is for my own good.

How about you? What's your motivation for marching out your comfort zone today? Are you looking for adventure, running away from something, running toward something, or maybe just sitting in the middle of the road in your shell?