Blackberry Season

Once upon a time I made the mistake of giving my dog a blackberry.

In order to understand the seriousness of this mistake, you have to understand something about my dog.  You see, my dog Marly seems to think that God was talking exclusively to her when He said in Genesis 1:30: “To every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.”

Marly loves every kind of green (and other colored) plant.  I first discovered this when she was just a puppy.  She was begging in the kitchen while I was peeling an orange, and knowing that most dogs hate citrus, I decide this was a wonderful training opportunity.  I tossed her a piece of orange, expecting her to grimace and step away.  Instead, she snatched it up and begged for more.  Ever since then, anytime that first whiff of citrus is released from a peeling orange, her four feet come skidding into the kitchen.  That plan backfired.

In addition to oranges, Marly loves grapefruit, bananas, green beans, potatoes, squash, carrots, apples, blueberries and – you guessed it – blackberries.

 

Marly the dog looking eagerly at a blackberry bush.

She’s got that crazed blackberry picking look in her eyes!

I wish you could have seen the look on her face the day she suddenly realized that this amazing delicacy was growing all alongside one of our favorite hiking trails.  Her eyes sprung open in astonishment as she watched me pluck a berry from the bush and stick it in my mouth.  Next thing I knew, she had dived into the middle of the bushes and was stripping the berries directly into her mouth.

Marly the dog eating blackberries from a bush.

Marly stripping blackberries from a bush.

“Hey!” I shouted.  “Save some for me!”

The only response was the shaking of first one bush and then another as she progressed deeper into the berry patch.

Every summer now we have a ritual, walking along our favorite trail, both of us scoping out the slowly ripening berries.  It’s a race to see which one of us can find the first ripened berry.  I admit that sometimes I resort to diversion tactics.  “Look over there!” I say, pointing to a small bush.  Then while she goes bounding one way, I run in the opposite direction, picking berries as quickly as I can.  I feel I am justified in such tactics; she is a much faster picker than me, so I need all the help I can get.

In peak season, there is always enough for both of us.  We may even pick companionably from the same bush.  She burrows underneath and gets all the deep and low berries; I pick high, only occasionally having to yell at her to stop shaking the bush because she’s making it hard to pick.

The head of Marly the dog, obscured by bushes, as she picks berries.

Marly is not afraid to burrow under a bush to get at the berries I can’t reach.

Blackberry season never lasts very long, but it’s a season I embrace with two hands and four paws.  Like other good things in life, it is one of God’s good gifts to us.  He did, after all, give us every green plant for food, and what a wonderful variety he provided!

It is hard to believe that we are already staring down the slope toward the end of summer.  With its long days and outdoor activities, summer always seems to go by quickly.  But then, I often find myself saying that about every season.  Are you having a busy summer?  Take some time amidst all the action to simply enjoy the gift of sunshine and flowering plants that God has placed around us.  Then, walk with Him into the next season. 

A berry-stained hand and dog paw.

Partners in the berry patch.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

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Welcoming the Unexpected

There is a boy singing with the most amazing voice.

That isn’t how I was going to begin this blog, but let me tell you, if you were here and could hear his voice, that’s all you’d be able to say too.  I wasn’t listening to the intro, so I didn’t catch his name, but I think they said he goes to a local high school here and has over a million (a thousand?) hits on his YouTube videos.  I may have heard that wrong, and maybe he is older than my first impression, but if I can figure out who he is and find a link, I will share it.

His voice brought in the swallows.  Where the sky was empty before, there are now soaring little birds.  And yes, his voice even makes the swallows seem to be soaring.   His name is Joel Benson.  They announced it again at the end of his song, and thanks to the wonderful fact that the downtown area is covered in Wi-Fi I was able to pull up Google and YouTube.  I missed two songs hunting for him, but came up empty.  Which tells me I am wrong about how many hits he has on his video; a video with a lot of hits should definitely come up.  So you will just have to take my word for it.  He has an amazingly smooth and classical voice.  The type that made my head jerk up in astonishment to see a highschooler singing.  I am not alone in my appreciation.  The crowd started clapping even before he finished.  If that’s not enough of an indication, take this one: there is what I estimate to be about a 2 year old boy slow dancing by himself with a diaper on his head.  Any voice that make swallows soar and 2-year-old boys slow dance has some kind of magical properties, I would say.

The concert tonight is going by too quickly.  Shadows have already crept along the ground.  It’s almost cool enough for a jacket this week – some different than last week.  There is a light jazzy piece playing now, before that a foot stomping march, but the highlight – and I hear he is coming back for the final song – was this young singer Joel Benson.

Every time I have come to this small town concert I have been impressed, humbled, and surprised.  There are so many good and beautiful things in this world if we make the time to seek them out, or if we open ourselves up to the unexpected moments.  (Jingle bells!  That was unexpectedly appropriate timing for a comment on unexpectedness!)

God, help us to appreciate the simple and unexpected moments of joy that you shower upon us.  Help us to remember during the long and dusty passages that at any moment there could be cool breezes, beautiful sunsets, and remarkable music.  Help us to remember that joy is a gift from you.  Thank you when those moments come.

Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God (Ecclesiastes 5:19).

Hebrew

This weekend, I began reading Hebrew.  I don’t mean the book of Hebrews; I mean the language Hebrew. Although to be honest, I didn’t actually read Hebrew so much as I just looked at it.  “Reading” implies comprehension.

I am signed up to take a Biblical Hebrew class this fall.  I am really looking forward to it.  So much so that even though the class does not begin for another month, I recently ordered the text books and eagerly tore the packaging open when they arrived.

And then I just stared.

Let me share with you what I think I have learned in my first few hours of Hebrew:

  • Sometimes, more than one letter makes the exact same sound.
  • Sometimes, the same letter makes different sounds.
  • Sometimes, a letter looks one way at the beginning of a word, and another way at the end of the word.
  • Some letters used to sound one way, and now sound another
  • Some letters don’t make any sound at all.  (Why on earth would anyone create a letter that has no sound?)

Oh, and did I mention you read Hebrew this way: .tfel ot thgiR

I spent the better part of several hours randomly picking a letter from my new Hebrew Bible and seeing if I could match it with a letter in my text book.  This is not as easy as it sounds.  For one thing, Hebrew letters don’t look anything like ours.  Take, for example, these three (different) letters from the Hebrew alphabet:

ר  ד  ך

Add in slight variations of typeface and the congestion of seemingly random dots that make up Hebrew vowel sounds, and I felt like a three year old faced with a daunting game of match-the-pictures.  (Let’s see… is that resh, hof, or dalet?)  Even when I did manage to successfully match a handful of letters, I was left with nothing more than an approximation of sounds.  I was no closer to the actual meaning.  Let me tell you, when God went to work at the Tower of Babel, He didn’t play around.

Despite the obvious challenges that lie in my path to Hebrew enlightenment, I can’t tell you how excited I am to be jumping into this class.  I love the mystery of it.  I love holding a book whose contents currently look like nothing more than chopped-up stick figures and knowing that months from now its message will be surfacing.  I will be reading God’s word in one of the languages in which it was first recorded.  That, my friends, is cool.

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God (Proverbs 2:1-5).

Swallows

I’m back again.  Writing at the Citizen’s Band.  I wasn’t going to let you know that.  I was going to write about picking blackberries.  But now that I’m here, I just can’t help it.  Because something unexpected has happened.

It’s different.

It’s about 90 degrees, even in the sinking sun.  People are fanning themselves with the programs trying to stir an elusive breeze.  The crowd is smaller, no doubt attributed to the (balmy) weather.  But the thing that really caught my eye is – are you ready for this? – the swallows.

Half a dozen swallows, maybe more, are performing circus stunts above the crowd.  I don’t know that anyone else has even noticed them, but I can’t imagine how they couldn’t.  They’re swooping through the air in Blue Angel precision, passing each other wing tip to wing tip before darting out of my sphere of vision.  I’ve never thought of swallows as particularly impressive birds.  Their pointy wings flutter like a bat’s.  They fly in a stutter, and when they glide they don’t soar so much as struggle to stay afloat, tipping madly one way and then another.  And yet seeing them up there tonight, darting above the band, has captivated me.

I’d like to say something artistic, like how they flap their little wings in time to the music, but they don’t even do that.  They are completely incongruous to the band.  I don’t think they even notice the band.  And what music tonight!  It has a distinctly Latin flair.  There are drums and a maraca, and after that I can’t name half the percussion instruments.  One of them looks like a pair of wooden spoons that a burly fellow in the back is banging against his elbow.  It produces a sound like angry crickets.

There’s something about music, though, that makes you forget for a moment about the day, and about the heat.  And there’s something about the swallows that is… what is it exactly?  Friendly.

As I’ve typed, the acrobatics have lessened.  Perhaps they’ve headed home to bed.  There is an occasional one or two, but in their absence the space above the band is suddenly a vacuous and deepening blue.  Last week I hadn’t noticed the lack of them, but this week their absence suddenly becomes conspicuous.  I am reminded of the passage that not one sparrow falls to ground unnoticed by God (Matthew 10:29).  I imagine the same is true of a swallow.  Every swallow who flutters home to bed is watched over by God.

Even more than that, I am reminded of the very beginning, when out of a vacuous space, God created everything.  The sun, the moon, the waters, and the earth.  The creeping creatures, the roaring creatures, and the fluttering creatures.  Even the darting little swallows.  And God called it all good.

I am reminded, when I see that empty blue, of the God who filled it with life.  And with love.  And with friendly little swallows.  (Off to bed little swallow.)

And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.”  So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:20-21

Anyplace

I am practicing being able to write anyplace.

I admire those people who can write anyplace.  People like that often say, “If I needed peace and quiet to write I would never get anything written!”  I agree.  The difference is that they fall into the “manage to get it done” category and I fall into the “nothing gets written category.”  So tonight I gave myself a challenge: take my laptop to my town’s weekly outdoor concert and write a post before the music stops.

So here I am.

I found a spot, after much deliberation, on the grass in a partially shady spot behind the band.  This means that when I look up, 90% of the crowd is facing me.  (Nothing like having an audience while you try to write deep thoughts.)  The cymbals are about 20 yards away. As are the drums (five different kinds that I can see) and the xylophone (cool, a xylophone!)  The trumpets are even closer.  Beneath them are – excuse me for a moment while I clap – beneath them are the saxophones, and bassoons and oboes and tubas and clarinets and probably some others… there’s a white pillar blocking part of my view so I can’t see it all for sure.  But I can hear them, and while I’m no musician, I’m impressed.  These folks sound good!  (Apparently there is at least one other lady who is equally enthused.  She yells “Woo-hoo!” after every song.)

But back to me.  I decided that this would be a good place to practice writing anyplace.  It’s more interesting than my kitchen table, that’s for sure.  And much more distracting.  I’m half listening to the conductor introduce the songs, I’m definitely listening to the music, and I’m interrupted every few sentences to clap.  Oh, and there’s a train.  (For a minute I thought that sound was part of the band!) There’s also a little girl turning cartwheels and plucking grass stems and spinning in circles until she falls down giggling.  If I stretched out my arm I could touch her.  And yet, I have managed to write.  Nothing insightful, but still… I consider this progress.

The real test is whether I can make that leap. (The little girl is now marching and waving a bunch of leaves in each hand.  She also just declared that there is broccoli in the grass.  I’m not sure whether there is actually broccoli in the grass, or a plant that just looks like broccoli.)  But as I was saying, the real test is whether I can make that leap.  Can I actually make a point and close this out before the music stops?  A couple lessons come to mind that I could potentially draw from this little exercise.  Here’s one of them: it’s easy to establish our habits, whether it’s a writing routine, a route to work, or a daily schedule.  We can begin living so inside our own pattern that we never even try to step outside.  We say, “I must have peace and quiet in order to write!”  “I can’t do that,” we say.  Or, “That won’t work.”  But our God is not a God of the can’t.  Our God is a God of the can.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me, Paul wrote (Philippians 4:13).  Sometimes that means the little everyday things we don’t have time for.  Like going to a concert when we should be writing.

It doesn’t matter what we can’t do.  If we give God the opening, He can.  It is Christ who strengthens us.  It is the Holy Spirit who guides us.  Sometimes all we need to do is try something a little different.

Our final song is underway, the early-leavers are folding their lawn chairs, which means it’s time to wrap this post up. If you’ve never checked out a small town citizen’s band, go find one.  Not into music?  Go find something else.  You might be surprised at what God can accomplish through you along the way.

His work is something worth clapping about. (Woo-hoo!)

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours will be thwarted (Job 42:2)