Thursday, September 27, 2012

Escape to the Mountaintop

(We watched an artist paint this in about 3 minutes.)

Last Thursday was a low point.

That morning, Mother passed out and did a face-plant in her apartment. An 85-year-old landed squarely on her chin.

I didn’t find out immediately. It wasn’t until a caretaker came by later to check on her that we knew. By then, Mother had ‘come to,’ gotten herself up, and was sitting in a chair with a paper towel on her chin to soak up the blood. As soon as I took a look at the gaping cut, I knew we were hospital-bound.

I believe I’ve mentioned how I feel about hospitals. I’ve spent way too much time in them for my own good. As my physician father always said, “A hospital is no place for a sick person.” Or a well one, unless you’re paid to be there. Hospitals bring back terrible memories for me. (But I am still grateful for them. My child’s life was saved in one.)

Of all my least favorite hospital experiences, the Emergency Room is #1.

I could write a book about some of our family’s times in the ER. I don’t know if it would be a comedy or a tragedy. Maybe a tragicomedy.

We were there for 10 hours. Mother had fractured her jaw and a broken a bone in her face.

By the end of the day, we had answered the same questionaire four times.

Hospital Employee: “Do you smoke?” 
Mother: “No.”
H.E.: “Have you ever smoked?” 
Mother: “Weeeeell, I have smoked before.”
H.E.: “For how long?”
Me, starting to lose it: “A couple of cigs in the ‘50’s. Like 60 years ago.” (Impatient   eye roll.)
H.E., plodding along: “Do you drink alcohol?”
Mother: “Ummm. Yes, I do drink.”
H.E.:How much?”
Mother: “Let me think. (pause, pause, pause, as she calculates)
Me, losing it: “Maybe half a glass of red wine per week for her heart! Now will someone please sew her up?”

(The worst was when we were finally admitted to a room upstairs. The English-challenged nurse added this question to the list: “Have you ever been diagnosed with dementia, Alzheimer’s, anything like that?”  “No,” Mother answered. “Yes,” I emphatically, but silently, nodded behind her back.

“Yes? No? Which is it?” demands the nurse.

I give her the evil eye.

I got home after 11:00 p.m., certain that I would YET AGAIN have to cancel a long-awaited event because of Family Emergency. Whenever I pre-purchase tickets for anything, there’s about a 15% chance I’ll actually get there. I was scheduled to attend the Women of Faith conference in Atlanta over the weekend with a group of ladies from my church.

My loved ones can tell when I’m about to slip over the edge. My husband said, “You’re still going.” Very definitive. My sister said that she would come over and spend the night with Mother Friday night. “You need to go.”

Mother was finally released from the hospital around 2:00 p.m. on Friday. I helped Kelly get her settled, then high-tailed it home, threw some things in a suitcase, and rushed to pick up the two friends I was riding with. Their days had been about as bad as mine. One had received sad news just before I got to her house, and then continued getting bad news texts up until the time we entered the Gwinnett Arena. Her husband of 30 years has decided he’d rather be with someone else, and there is constant painful fallout from that.

The drive there was nerve-wracking, we had trouble finding the hotel, and we finally gave up on finding the restaurant where we were supposed to meet. The three of us grabbed something to eat at the first place we could get into, and finally got to the Arena after the lights had been turned off and the music started. I was thinking the whole thing might have been a bad idea. My friend was depressed and anxious. My nerves were shot, my heart was racing. I felt achy all over. Plus, I don’t do well in crowds. Enemy Forces were working overtime.

Based on the law of averages, I assumed we’d be somewhere up in the nosebleed section. But ushers kept shining their flashlights on our tickets and directing us to go down through the crowd of 13,000 women. Down, down, down…

...until we were on the floor in front of the stage, about 6 rows back. Two platforms extended diagonally from the main stage. Our seats were directly next to one.

Amy Grant, Sandi Patty, Mandisa. Patsy Clairmont, Marilyn Meberg, Brenda Wagner.

Up close and personal.

(Sandi Patty and Brenda Warner about two feet away from us.)

Need I say what a mind-boggling mountaintop experience it was? 13,000 women praising the Lover of their souls. Inspiring testimonies from imperfect people, rescued by the One who loves them perfectly. Magnificent music. Beautiful ballet. Inspiring art. A feast for eye, mind, and soul.

We floated out of there Saturday night, limp with joy.

Back to the valley, where fresh heartaches and challenges await.

For the time being, it’s not possible to live on the mountaintop. We are transported there briefly for times of renewal, refreshing, and revelation.

Throughout scripture, the mountaintop is where God reveals himself. Moses received the gift of the Law on Mount Sinai. The transfiguration of Christ, the Sermon on the Mount, the commissioning of the apostles were all mountaintop experiences.

We are figuratively closer to God on a mountaintop than anywhere else on earth. We see Him more clearly there. The challenge is to bring that clarity of vision back down with us into the muddy mess of life in the valley.

Hopefully, the revelations we receive on the mountain will change us in some way. Leave an imprint of divinity. Give us hope in facing the perils of valley-dwelling. Remind us that the valley is not our natural habitat. Give us glimpses of our future home.

May the fresh mountain wind of the Spirit sustain us, and give us strength for the journey there.


 “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.”
(Revelation 21:10-11))

“On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,

a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.

On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,

the sheet that covers all nations;

he will swallow up death forever.

The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;

he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.

The Lord has spoken.”

(Isaiah 25:6-8)


Anyone else struggling to keep a mountaintop perspective while living down in the valley? Want to share ways to keep an eternal perspective?

I want you to know how much I appreciate each and every comment. Each response is a blessing, and adds to the experience for all of us. I wish I were able to respond to each of you personally, but I’m kind of just hanging on by the skin of my teeth right now. Maybe one day, God willing, I will become that kind of blogger. In the meantime, I want to thank you dear readers for your unconditional encouragement and support. (Hi, Amie’s sorority sister!! Go Rebs!)

I am having my cataract surgery re-done next week, so I may be out of commission for a bit. But I’ll be back!


p.s. Please check out the Women of Faith website here.  The testimonies of both Sandi Patty and Brenda Warner (wife of NFL player Kurt Warner) were particularly moving and inspirational. You can purchase their books on the website if you’re interested. Actually, all the speakers and singers were all great! Their products on line, too.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Un-sour Grapes

(Magnet on refrigerator door at the lake house)


Sorry I’ve been sketchy lately.

I returned home from California to be faced with a sad new reality that will mean some major changes have to happen.  A situation that causes daily stress, and will for an indefinite period. If prognoses are correct, there won’t be a happy ending.

(Sorry to be obscure, but it concerns someone else’s health.)

On top of that Major Situation, stressful Minor Situations seemed to pile up on top of each other. Every day. Layer upon layer of stress and anxiety. Things heating up to the boiling point.

Everything in my world seems broken or in need of repair. (I have a post 3/4ths written about Broken Things, but had to put it aside because I was in such a foul mood.)

And I was anxious about impending cataract surgery. Another sign of impending age.

I did what I often do in such situations. I let those heavy layers weigh me down until I found myself in a fast southward spiral to The Pit.

Instead of “Good morning, Lord!” it was “Oh Lord, it’s morning!”  Each day I prayed for enough energy to just-get-through-it.  I resorted to my favorite unhealthy coping mechanisms.

One of the many broken things was a flooded basement at the lake house we never have time to use anymore. (I know…W.G.P.)

Servpro had come and done their thing, including ripping up all the carpets. I was scheduled to meet the carpet people the week that Katherine broke her leg. Obviously, that had to be postponed and rescheduled until I returned from LA.

It was just about the last thing in the whole world I had time or inclination to do that first stressful week back. So Miss Bad-Mood-Betty hauled herself up there in the family ‘truck’ (car broken!), and pouted. Looked at all the happy Before Pictures, and had a Pity Party about how life has turned out.

I had to spend the night after the carpet guys finished (late), so the handyman could come in the morning and help me move all the furniture back. While there, he pointed out several other things that are in need of immediate repair before we get a Property Condemned sign on the door.

Wearily, I hauled stuff back up to the ‘truck’ to head home. It was a hideously humid, hot day. Bad words were in my head. If anyone had been around to hear, they might have come out.

The ‘truck’ was too close to the bramble. I got scratched trying to load things up. In frustration, I pushed back some branches.

And noticed this:

In 15 years of owning the property, we have never seen a single grape.

There were decaying grape arbors on the lot when we bought it. Evidently, the previous owners had high expectations for pursuing a gardening hobby at the lake.

But nobody goes to the lake to weed and prune. What kind of vacation is that?

By the time we purchased the cabin, nature had reclaimed most of its original territory. We loved it that way. We could drive an hour away and escape the modern world. Go back to the woods and water. From complexity to simplicity. From manmade to Godmade.

With zero yard maintenance.

The structures of the collapsing arbors were still visible underneath a screen of climbing vines and evergreen trees that grew above, around, and beside them. We totally ignored them.

During the past 15 years, they have almost disappeared from sight. We forgot they were there.


I have spoken of the lake house before. It is a place rife with emotion for me.

Most people who own ”vacation homes” will eventually admit that they are no vacation. You could go to the Ritz in Paris for a month every year and still come out better off. Second homes easily turn into possessive Money Pits. If they involve the use of boats, you might as well stand over the toilet and shred large denomination bills to get an idea of what you’re getting into. If you value your freedom, my advice is just say no.


I don’t regret it. Financially, it may not have been the most brilliant investment. My husband always prefers stocks vs. real estate. But it was a significant investment in our family.

Our girls were almost 15, 13, and 7. We could see what lay ahead with peer group folly. (We knew from previous personal experience.) “The Laughing Place” was an antidote. An innocence-keeper. A virtue-prolonger.

No technology. No cell phones. Even… gasp… No TV!

Girls safely in the basement, instead of in someone else’s basement in Athens where the rules weren’t the same as ours.

Boyfriends safely sleeping on the pullout sofa in the Great Room… under watch.

That tacky little lake house lived up to its name. Our family had some world-class laughs there. Danced til we were dizzy. Ate til we were sick. Tubed and skied and swam and chilled in the hammock and played silly games. Indelible memories were made for us, our children, their friends, boyfriends, and for our extended families.

Who knows? The Laughing Place may even have prevented some catastrophes waiting back on the downtown streets of our precocious college town. A few at least. (We still had our share.)

In any case, it made the High School years a more magical time for all of us.

Then Life Happened.

If I ever write a book, I’ll explain how everything changed. How one loss came upon the next in such rapid succession that there was no time to recover in between.

The lake house became an increasingly infrequent escape.

A sanctuary.

Then there came a day… right smack dab in the middle of other stinging losses… when I drove up and saw that the lot next door had been clear-cut up to our property line. The lots are pie-shaped, on a point in the lake, so that meant that half of what we’d considered “our front yard” was bulldozed to the ground. The bulldozer was still there, touching the corner of our parking pad. The foundation of the new house was just feet away from the back porch. No more drinking coffee in pajamas on the porch swing. The sanctuary no longer was one. I felt completely exposed.

(Long story short: We’d tried to buy that lot over the years in order to protect our privacy, but were “done dirty” on several occasions. That made the sting even sharper.)

 I sat on the porch swing in disbelief. Where there had been a canopy of ancient, cool, sheltering trees, there was now a flat barren plain of rough red Georgia dirt. I cried over those gorgeous fallen trees as if they were relatives. It felt like another loss, another death, another end.

With the removal of the thick screen of tall trees, the temperature in the house increased substantially. One side was exposed to the beating heat of the western sun. Energy costs mounted.


I held a perfect round scuppernong in my hand. I bet it tastes bad, I thought, before popping it in my mouth anyway.

It was sweet and delicious. Much better than the sour scuppernongs I remembered from childhood forays with my father.

I bet there aren’t any more on these old choked vines.

But there were. Hiding among the prickly wild evergreens like shiny round peridots.

I got a jumbo-sized gas station cup out of the car and started collecting hidden treasure. I discovered more and more as I moved towards the left through the overgrowth. Towards the west. Towards the side no longer shielded from the heat of the afternoon sun.

On that side, there was an abundant harvest of juicy green jewels.

I realize, at last, that this is a God-thing. A lesson. Another parable for the spiritually slow.

Spell it out, Lord. My ears have been stopped up lately.

I have to listen hard.

But the message comes quickly:

The heat of adversity produces great fruitfulness. 

And bountiful blessings.

It was the heat… the exposure to the light of the sun… that finally caused the tangled old vines to produce the grapes. 

I chew on that thought all the way back to Athens.

It’s not the easy-breezy times. Not when everything’s cool. Not when I’ve got it made in the shade. Not when I’m hiding out from unpleasant realities in my air-conditioned bubble, as I so love to do.

It’s when the heat is on that the qualities necessary for fruitfulness are developed. From the fiery furnace of adversity comes a willingness to be used... a desire to share the secrets learned under fire. Self-will and pride are burned away. 

If we cooperate with the purging process.

Later, I read this:

“A sword is tempered by heating it and then plunging it into cold water. As the room fills with steam and the sword sizzles, the outside molecules of the metal that make up the sword try to move inward while the inside molecules try to move outward putting the metal under tremendous pressure. It is this dynamic tension, this pressure, that gives the sword its strength. 
Out of the fiery trials of adversity, the Lord wants to produce strong, persevering character in our lives.

It boils down to whether or not we want comfort or character. We must embrace the process and permit God to do His work of making us more mature and useable — both for our good and His glory.” (Randall D. Kiddle)

Oh, how I want to be used in the time I have left.

Dear Lord,
Please expose me to the Light of your Son
so that I may bear the fruit of your Spirit.
(And help me take the heat.)


“But by means of their suffering, he rescues those who suffer. For he gets their attention through adversity.” (Job 36:15, NLT)

“…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace…” (Daniel 3:17)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. (John 15:1-2)

“Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, 
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.

It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.

It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.” 
(Jer. 17:7-8)


Does anyone else feel under fire right now?

Have any advice for staying cool in the heat of adversity?

There is so much symbolism it all of this. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

(p.s. The house next door turned out to be lovely, and the neighbors are nice.)