Just Below the Surface

Just Below the Surface

Floating in a lake of liquid glass I decided to do it

My children and I had spent the hot mid-July morning swimming around our boat we had parked in the middle of the beautiful Wisconsin lake when it dawned on me. “You’re not getting any younger. Just do it.” Forever 17 in my head, I decided  I needed to feel the smooth velvet under my ski.  After pulling on a life jacket I hung back in the cool water, my blue-green O’Brien ski tip just showing above the surface.   While my teen age son pulled the boat around to take the slack out of the tow rope,  I basked with the sunshine on my face and had two thoughts; “Life is great,” and ” Think Strong.”  When I was ready I yelled, “Hit it.”

Along with the  sudden sound of the boat’s engine roaring, there was a terrible sensation, (well, actually a severe pain,) all along my sternum.  I remember now, that same sensation of bones crunching  under the heel of my hand when I did chest compressions on an elderly patient years ago.    I was working in a small town E.R. when the little lady came in and coded. You know-when you age your bones get “brittle.” They’re not as strong as they  used to be.

As I drug myself onto the deck of the Nautique, my tears were partly from pain and partly from the fact that I can’t always do what I enjoyed doing when I was younger.  Now, a week later, because I feel like I’ve been kicked in the chest by a horse, my tears are” just below the surface,”  and I’m spending a lot of time thinking about life being “good.”

You see, besides having a chest that aches, I have a heart that aches.  I just found out that my friend Luke, whom I don’t see very often,  has lymphoma.  Mr. Successful, Mr. Personality,  Mr. Everybody-Loves- Luke; yeah,  that Luke has cancer.  And it makes my heart ache.

He was on the top of his game from all outward appearances.  The night he told us,  it was hard to see him smiling and chatting with all of his friends who love him and his   restaurant. He was chatting, but in a more reserved way; some of his vitality was missing, and he looked  a little vulnerable.  I wondered if he tired of repeating his story while sporting a new look;  the    “I just finished  chemo” look…no hair, no eye brows, no lashes.

The sound technicians at Focus on the Family Radio Theater are masters of their trade.   When producing The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,   I don’t know what type of fleshy, juicy fruit with a rind they used to portray the tough, scaly skin being ripped from Eustace,  but the effect is unforgettable.  It is my favorite “scene” in the radio production of C.S Lewis’s book.

A rather nasty little boy named Eustace,  turns into a dragon and he is miserable.  His selfishness and greed are to be blamed for his misery, for it was while he was trying to hide treasure from his friends that he  became a dragon in the first place.   Initially, he thinks it may be grand to be a dragon and take revenge on all those whom he thought had made his life difficult, but he quickly finds it to be a lonely existence, isolated from those he realizes he loves. And the gold bracelet he had stolen was cutting into his larger dragon leg, causing him great pain.

While in his dragon state, he came face to face with Aslan- the only one who could help him.  The Great Lion, looks into his eyes and tells the boy to “Follow Me.” They eventually came to a  well in the mountains. It was a beautiful, round  bath with marble steps leading down into its depths. It looks inviting,  and may soothe his pain.  Aslan then requires Eustace to “Undress,”  before he bathes,  and the boy sheepishly realizes Aslan is requiring him to remove his skin, as he is wearing no clothes. After repeated attempts to scratch off the horrible, scaly skin  Eustace finds he can only remove  layers, much like a snake shedding his skin.  But he remains unchanged.  He can do nothing on his own to remove the rough, thick skin that is still  covering him.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.  Aslan requires Eustace to lie on his back.  Because Eustace is becoming more humble in his desperate condition, he submits and “the first tear with the Lion’s claw was so deep it felt as though it was going straight to his heart.”  (Here is where the  Focus on the Family sound fx guys were brilliant; the tearing, ripping,rending sound they accomplish leave a lasting impression in your mind.) The only thing that makes it bearable to Eustace is the pleasure he feels when his  real, tender, human skin is exposed and the hideous,  thick, dragon skin is  removed.  It was glorious  to feel as “smooth and soft as a peeled switch,”  and smaller too.

Luke reminds me of Eustace.  Oh no.  I don’t mean that he is a nasty little boy.  Au contraire.  Luke is a very nice young man, but like all of us, he probably has a bit of an exterior surface.  It may even be tough and scaly after years of build up. Life sure has a way of ripping off exteriors doesn’t it.  Those tough hides we like to hide inside of, thinking we could remove them if we wanted to, but it’s safer not to.  Less embarrassing too-you know… never let ’em see you cry.  Never let ’em see those tears that are “just below the surface.”

It’s easy for me to say I am thankful the Great Physician doesn’t leave us in our present state, our dragon state.  I’m not the one currently lying on my back while he rips into my hide,  trusting the Great Healer to “undress” me, but somehow, I hope Luke will see  though His mercy is severe, (to borrow a term from Mr. Lewis,) it is a mercy none-the-less.

And I pray the debridement will give him the pleasure of feeling as “smooth and soft as a peeled switch.”


Lessons From the Barnyard


Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, is such a delightful book to read with children.    The characters are all believable even though most of them are barnyard animals with human like characteristics.  Your heart goes out to Fern who wants desperately to save the runt of a litter of pigs, the one whom her father has deemed “a weakling -” one that “won’t amount to anything.”   He remits his initial dictate; that the runt should be “done away with,” and allows Fern to lavish on the little pig all the protective,  motherly love that was bursting from her little girl’s heart when she saw the ax in her father’s hand.

Fern takes the precious little pink pig, the weakling that needed her, and treated him like any good mother would; warming bottles of milk, taking him for stroller rides, gazing at him,  and nuzzling his soft pink skin against her cheek, but most importantly, she named him Wilbur.  Here is a terribly fun fact;  I am sure that the author chose this name very carefully, although I’ve never read about the decision.  I am only surmising that much thought went into choosing the name Wilbur.  I have  always thought that it just sounded “farmy,” but much to my surprise,  it originates from an old English word that means “Wild Boar,” and even cooler to my mind is that it actually means, “Dearly loved stronghold,”  “Willful,” “Resolute,” and ”Brilliant.”

Wilbur goes from being an unwanted cast off to a dearly loved, chosen one.  And he thrives under Fern’s care. He grows into a lovely, sentimental pig and many conversations concerning his future are held in the barn with all of the other farm animals who have become his friends.  His best friend, Charlotte the spider decides to help save him from his probable demise of being bacon on the farmer’s table by making him stand out.  In a most imaginative way, she spins words into her web; words describing Wilbur in a positive light.  Taking great pains to ensure correct spelling, she weaves the words “Some Pig,” “Terrific,” and “Radiant“ into her web  she placed in the barn doorway.  Wilbur, in turn “threw himself into looking ‘Radiant’ with a will.”  He made every effort to live up to the name given him by Fern and the descriptive words woven into Charlotte’s web.  And it worked.  Everyone that came to see him marveled at what a wonderful pig he was and his fears were put to rest, because he knew the farmer, Mr Zuckerman,  would never kill him now.

It is a scientific fact that people live up to the labels or names we give them.  It is called the “Rosenthal Effect” named after the researcher who discovered that school children actually performed differently, when their teachers were given certain labels to attach to them at the start of the school year.   The children that were labeled as ones who “would do very well” throughout the course of the year actually improved their IQ scores, because the teachers treated them differently.

I have noticed the same holds true with my children.  When in my mind, I have named them “Lazy,” they live up to that expectation.  When I look at them in a more positive light and label them “Creative,” or “Patient,” they begin to think of themselves in the same light and the difference can be life changing.   I read in the Bible, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” and my heart trembles at the power we as parents have when raising our precious gifts on loan from God.

What names will I place over my children today?  I am choosing “life-giving” names.



.Rosenthal, R., &. Jacobson, L. (1963). Teachers’    Expectancies: Determinants of pupils’ IQ gains. Psychological Reports, 19, 115-118.


Tarnal Contraptions

Tarnal Contraptions

My head is spinning.  

When my children were small, I did everything to make sure that they were not staring at a screen for hours at a time.  I was shocked when a friend purchased a new van that actually included personal DVD screens for each child.   Now, everywhere I look, children’s faces are lit up by the glow of a screen.  It keeps them quiet and it’s less messy than say, painting or playing with play-dough. 

I have always been stubborn about embracing technology, adamantly  saying, “I’d rather do something real… like brush a horse, than to sit and stare at a screen.”  It’s the same stubborn feeling I get when summer comes to an end.  I will not admit that the weather is changing, and that school is just around the corner.  I think that if I just apply the brakes hard enough, I can actually prevent the dreaded event from happening;  i.e. …FALL, followed by a long Wisconsin winter.  It will just not happen, as if by my sheer stubbornness I can  control the world’s weather patterns!  Likewise, if I do all within my power to stay away from technology, it will not invade my world. 

One of our family’s favorite books is, The Fields of Home, by Ralph Moody.  In it,  young Ralph is sent to live with his cantankerous grandfather who has been farming the land he inherited from his father , who had cleared the land in the 1700’s.    When Ralph tries to introduce time-saving machinery to his grandfather’s farm in Maine, it angers the frustrated old man who then would destroy whatever “tarnal contraption” the young boy would invent,  and build with the junk he could find on the farm.  Once Grandfather discovered these  inventions, he would carry on in a loud tirade, “What kind of fiddledeedee falderal’s going on around here?”  Over and over, Ralph would see an opportunity to improve the farm and would come up with creative solutions in the form of what his grandfather termed, “lazy-man contraptions.”   It is a dearly loved read-a-loud book in our home, but it is always a bit difficult for me to read because the grandfather is so frustrating.  It is exasperating to us when we think of how unfair and at times, unkind he could be to his grandson who was only trying to help.

I now find myself in the same situation.  I am the frustrated old farmer; suddenly surrounded by new technologies that I can’t understand.  Like Grandfather in the  Fields of Home, I long for the good old days when I could see how a typewriter’s metal typeset keys would stick together, and I could fix them easily with a flick of my  finger.  Now, in my head, I dig  my heels in and want to keep any”tarnal contraptions”  from entering my home, thinking I can somehow keep the world at bay if I do. 

What can I learn from  The Fields of Home?  Eventually, after much time and patience on Ralph’s part, Grandfather began to soften to the idea of some machinery used on his farm.  He began to see the ”progress” that it allowed them, he and his grandson, and it opened up new opportunities to build relationships with his long estranged neighbors; people who had previously stayed away from such a frustrated, angry old man.

Maybe there is a way to embrace the new technology.  I have dug my stubborn heels in and held my breath to get my way.  I have ranted and raved and sounded a lot like the frustrated old farmer, and funny thing, it hasn’t made it go away.  Maybe, I can look for the good in it;   the opportunities to build relationships with people who have written off the cantankerous old lady,  and I am currently learning how much technology can help my children that struggle with Dyslexia.

 I am sure that today, the beautiful corner of the world affectionately called the “fields of home” by  Ralph Moody  has either been  turned into a large-scale agricultural enterprise or sadly enough, a shopping mall ,  but Grandfather isn’t here to see it.  Maybe someday, because of all of this technological  ” progress,”  actual books will only be seen in museums, and no one will have to know how to hold a pen or how to spell correctly and hopefully, like Grandfather, I won’t be here to see it.  However,  while I’m still here, I’m going to walk in the balance, hoping that my children will do the same.  After I finish sitting in front of this screen, being helped along with spell check and some magic thing-a-ma-gig that underlines my incorrect sentence structure,  I think I’ll go outside, find a worn old curry comb and brush a horse.