Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The Time Has Come

Well, this is it. Another page has turned and this first sequel is ending. I have been blogging nearly ten years. I began because I thought God wanted me to write. What he wanted me to write was still unknown, but write I did.
I have written about children, homeschooling, marriage, and the mundane. I have written about vacations, vanity, and broken vans. I have written some political pieces and some devotional duds. But whatever was going on, I kept on writing.
Finally, I wrote enough to put it all together and hear what God was saying in between my lines: Tell others about me.
So now I am launching into the great unknown, but knowing that the Greatest Known Being goes with me. I am nervous. I am anxious. I am a little off-kilter. But I am also eager and anticipating the exciting times God has planned for me ahead.
You will no longer find me here typing my tiny words into the Master's books. I have a new website, www.TraciStead.com where you can get updates on my newest book and read my latest devotional blogs. You can also keep in contact via Facebook/TraciLStead.
Thank you so much for joining me on the first part of my journey. See you again, soon!

Monday, September 02, 2013

Words of Wisdom or Tormenting Talk?

Jonathan is completing some college course work while he takes his last two high school classes. He is enrolled at the local community college, where, occasionally, he meets up with a professor with identity problems. Wishing she were at a larger school and dealing with true scientists, this particular teacher did not start the school semester off well. In fact, I was ready to remove her from her position, but have managed to hold back.

On the first day of classes, she asked the students to introduce themselves and to state their degree intentions. My sixteen-year-old son admitted that he would like to get a degree in Communications. She responded by telling him to get out of the class. This has been verified by another student.

After Jonathan continued that he is a "Dual-Enrollment Student," she brushed him off with, "Oh, Dual-Enrollment kids are good." But the damage had already been done. He spent the next week unable to sleep, restlessly thinking of nothing but failure. His stomach was tied in knots, and food was not his friend. Without knowing what she had done, this professor had instilled a fear of her and her class and a lack of fondness for her field.

A woman I know from another culture and religious denomination knows fear in the book of Revelation. Her minister taught from the book when she was young, and the fear that invaded her childish mind hasn't let go yet. She refuses to read her Bible because of the scare tactics that were used against her so many years ago. The man who spoke so harshly of God certainly (hopefully?) did not know what he was doing.

Fear makes us useless. We become unable to function, to do what needs to be done. But even more than that, fear drives out the joy and passion that are meant to be a part of our lives. Instead of learning about the beauty of creation and its intricacies, a student is left feeling inept and a failure before the lessons even begin. Instead of reading about a relationship of love and acceptance, a child of God is relegated to a lifetime fear of retribution.

I remember a childhood church song: "Oh be careful little mouth what you say, for the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little mouth what you say." Often this verse is meant to teach youngsters to keep their tongues pure and holy, clean of sinful talk and filth. But just as importantly, it needs to remnd us that we have great power in our mouths, power to destroy, power to permanently damage. Oh do be careful little mouth what you say!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Dirty Jobs

No one likes the dirty jobs. Cleaning my circa 1951 oven is an unpleasant task. Scrubbing bathrooms infested with boys also tops the list. When I was a kid, I hated cleaning the trap in the sink after washing dishes.

My friend's young son, Paul, has figured out how to get through life without doing any of the dirty jobs: he is going to marry a woman who works full-time and lets him stay home, but only AFTER the kids are all potty-trained. None of that messiness for him, by golly!

We all understand the disdain of the disgusting; the odor, the filth, the nastiness make us turn our eyes the other way and hope someone else will step up to the plate.

I love fungi. I think they are beautiful. Their colors are bright spots in dull brown expanses. Walking along a leaf-littered path, small, red spots of color grab my attention. Bright, happy buttons of mushrooms melt into the landscape doing their work without fanfare or recognition.
Without fungi to decay organic materials the leaves, grasses, and dead animals would pile up and overcrowd our world in no time. Yes, that spore-filled cloud of mushrooms is doing all of the dirty work. You walk by not noticing the important work going on right under your nose, because the fungus at your feet has already removed the odor.
So many people in our lives are faithful fungi. They pick up the dirty laundry that falls around us, take out the trash that is heaping in ever-growing mounds, and mop up the mess of someone else's problems. They are largely unnoticed, but their bright beautiful colors bless me when I take the time to discover the difference they are making in the world.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Gift of Light

The college students are back in town. The traffic is slower, yet more dangerous. You never know when a new-to-town driver will bolt across a couple lanes to get where she needs to be. Horns honk, and impatience rears its ugly head.

I'm walking on the greenway, enjoying a quiet evening. Runners race past me, and cyclists whiz by on their way to somewhere important or on their way to nowhere important, only enjoying the strength of a young body.

I cross over the wooden bridge and continue following the peaceful path. My shoes clop, clop, clop creating a rhythm that mimics the one inside me. A slow heart, a quiet, calming thud-up, thud-up, drives the frantic feelings and thoughts from my mind.

Passing the yellow "Caution: Blind Curve Ahead" sign, I see that the bench overlooking the river is free. Sitting down for a few moments, I swat absent-mindedly at the buzzing insects. The mosquitoes, multiplying quickly during this very wet summer, are looking for a tasty meal. I hear the traffic crossing the highway bridge over the Tar River. The locusts and cicadas shriek their high-pitched summer songs, and more people race and ride past my quiet spot.

I watch as the river slowly flows past me. Small sticks float on top the water while tiny ripples of movement can be seen in the dusky evening light. This river has come a long way from the trickling mountain streams of Virginia. Soon it will slide into the waters of the Pamlico River and then sift into the Pamlico Sound. Finally, the Atlantic will embrace the fresh water, sending it northwards to recreate the cycle again.

Sometimes it is hard to close out the sounds of runners, cyclists, road traffic, and pesky summer insects. Listening to the inner rhythm is often impossible as outside noises speed up and magnify their own self-importance. But the longer I sit here, basking in the solitude of one among many, the quieter the evening becomes. The longer I watch the slow-moving river, the more my heart and mind meld into one slow river of peacefulness.

Finally, I begin to feel God's presence. I begin to hear his faithful voice whispering to me. Silence is the loudest when God walks by. He sits on the bench and gazes at the river's gentle strength. He reminds me that he has been there the entire time, waiting for me to join him, to listen to the still, small voice within that beckons to a steady rhythm.

Time passes; the night begins creeping along the tree-covered walk, and I reluctantly rise from the bench. Walking back the way I came, I pass only a solitary gentleman. He nods his greying head at me as if to say, "You chose the better way."  I glance to the right of the path as one last gleam of sunshine finds its way to a clearing in the trees. A green clump of swamp grass glows in this last of the day's light. That is the gift, the voice whispering, "Time with me will let you see in the darkness. Night will not fall while I am walking beside you."

"You are my lamp, O Lord; the Lord turns my darkness into light." 2 Samuel 22:29

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Dog TV

A television can provide all important mental stimulation for dogs and help prevent boredom behaviour”,
PIAS (“The Petcare And Information Advisory Service”)

When my children were little, they would ask me if they could watch a video or a half-hour PBS children's show. They knew that I would fall asleep while they were watching, and then they could watch for even longer.

But I tried hard to not let them watch too much television. The Pediatric Association recommended no more than two hours a day at that time, and I think they recommend even less now. Your child can keep himself busy: playing, eating, talking, talking, talking, and other things that little guys do. But dogs are different.
When dogs are left alone they make messes, chew up pillows, eat ten-dollar bills, poop on the floor, leave dog hair on the couch and bed where they don't belong, and other things that puppies plan. So the authorities that be decided dogs should watch television. This is real!

DOGTV is the ideal babysitter for “home alone” dogs. Research shows that dogs feel better in the company of television, especially when the right content is on.
DOGTV provides television for dogs with three types of programming offering relaxing and stimulating content as well as positive behavioral reinforcements. Dogs that are left alone tend to become anxious so the calming sounds and music in the relaxing segments on DOGTV were created to keep them peaceful. Many dogs also suffer from a lack of stimulation, which becomes acute when their parents are away. The stimulating segments provide dogs with invigorating images, animation and exciting real world sounds to keep them up and running.

DOGTV’s television programming meets a dog’s typical daily routine and helps prevent mental fatigue, depression and boredom.

The thing is, we have a classroom in the house and can't have the television on during the day. Instead our dog sits outside watching birds, goats and cats. He digs holes under the tree and at the end of the porch. He barks at cyclists that go by. He watches unyieldingly for the neighbor's dog, Morgan, his evil nemesis.

In the evening, when we watch television, the dog comes into the living room and falls asleep. So somehow, the television that is bad for kids actually keeps them awake and alert, while it puts adults and dogs to sleep.

I think children are actually the ones in charge of television productions.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Can I Have It Back?

"Pick three items out of my box. Any three."

My young students peeked into the magical box of goodies, pawing and pondering which items would be best. A magic wand, a ribboned baton, a silly straw, all were coveted items. But two girls, sisters of course, argued over who should get the duct tape covered, plastic binoculars. Finally the six-year-old won.

I went on with the Bible lesson and then said, "Ok. Now I need an item back. You can pick whatever you want to turn back in, but I need to have some of these things back."

The six year old tossed in her silly straw and contentedly continued looking through the binoculars. Going on with the lesson, I read some scripture, told a story, and then dropped the next bomb.

"You know what? I'm going to see some other kids later today, and they are going to want some toys to play with. Would you put in one more thing?" I asked.

Sadly the six-year-old handed over her ribboned baton, and I kept on talking about helping others and what all of us can do to teach others about Jesus. But I noticed that the little sister slid the binoculars under her long blond hair.

You know where I am going with this just as well as the six-year-old did.
"Class, I need that last item back as well. Yes, I gave it to you earlier. Yes it was yours, but now I am asking you to give it back. Will you let me have it back?"

"Can I still look through the binoculars when we are done?" she asked as she hesitantly picked up her hair from the nape of her neck.

"Yes, you can still look through them when we are done. But right now I would like it if you would let me have them back," I explained.

Slowly, reluctantly, she pulled the binoculars over her head and handed them over.

It was painful. It was sad. It was so very personal.

God has asked me to give back all of myself to him. He asks for my money, my time, my gifts, my life. And some I gladly toss back into his box, happy to help. But others. . . Others I hold on to more tightly.

"Can I have it back when you're done?" I ask, tears brimming in my sorrowful eyes.

And God, softly laughing to himself, answers yes. He knows some day I will grow up and see how worthless my little toys are, but for now they are treasures, and I am his six-year-old still learning.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Moms Aren't Real People

There is an empty building I pass several times a week. It used to be a gas station, but after Sheetz moved in the competition was too fierce, and they closed. I like the building, and the location not far from home has had me contemplating opening a coffee house. The area is filled with college kids who love a cup of joe and a friendly atmosphere. Our growing city has little in the way of places to meet and chat with friends over a cup of something good, so I think the market is there for it.

I've talked it over a few times with Matt, but I haven't done anything about it yet. The life of a preacher always makes me a bit nervous about putting down too many expensive roots that might have to be pulled up and shipped over to the bankruptcy department if I had to suddenly move.

As I passed the building again on Sunday I mentioned to the boys that I had talked to their dad about putting in a coffee shop there. They asked if I am really going to do it, and I explained my hesitancy. Then, Jonathan piped up from the backseat, "I didn't know you had plans."

"You didn't know I had plans? What do you mean?"

"I just didn't know you had plans. You know, the book. . . a coffeehouse. Plans," he stumbled.

Amos laughed at him from the front seat and asked what he thought I was going to do. Jonathan just murmurred that he didn't know I planned on anything and then looked away.

He doesn't see me as a person yet. I am still just his mom, his caretaker, cook, laundress, teacher, chore giver, scolder. I remember that stage of life, when parents were just parents and didn't have lives. When you couldn't imagine them as people with ambitions, goals, or heaven forbid- feelings.

Right now Jonathan's world is small, and for the most part he is the center of it. I don't mean that he is self-absorbed or conceited. Actually, he is compassionate, caring, helpful, but he doesn't see far beyond the horizon. Soon he will discover, though, that no matter how old people are, they still dream. They still have plans.