You Bet Your Straw Bales He Does

“Have any ideas where I can get straw to cover this?” my husband asked.

I was standing on our deck and watching my husband fling handfuls of grass seed over the topsoil we’d just spread where our pool used to be. And where our pickup truck and trailer, which he’d used to haul the topsoil to the backyard, had left deep ruts in the soft April soil.

I looked down at him. “Don’t you think we should’ve found straw before you seeded?”

“Probably,” he said. “Too late now.”

I racked my brain for a place to get straw bales and came up clueless. In the fall, all the local farm stands had straw. And sometimes farmers parked their hay wagons along the side of the road and sold bales of straw and hay. But now, in April?

He finished raking the grass seed into the soil and smiled up at me. “How about a walk in town?”

partly cloudy

It was seventy degrees outside, and we needed to enjoy the nice weather while it lasted, especially since I’d heard the “S” word in the forecast for Wednesday. (And by the “S” word I mean “Snow.”) We piled into the jeep—our old boxer in the back and us in front. As we backed out of the driveway, my husband punched numbers into his phone. “I’ll call Tractor Supply, see if they have straw or hay.”

Sure, they had hay. Little bags of it in the pet section, where we’d purchased them on occasion for our rabbits. I added up how much it would cost to buy enough to cover the large areas of planted grass and was about to protest when his phone emitted the tone which indicates the user misdialed.

“I’ll try again later,” my husband said.

While he drove, I tried to swallow my irritation. I’d worked hard all week, and all I wanted to do today was take a stroll and then plonk down on the couch with a good book. But instead, I could kiss my relaxing day good-bye. Tractor Supply wouldn’t have straw bales, so we’d drive all over creation in search of a nice farmer who would sell us some. When that didn’t work, we’d end up buying a gazillion little bags of hay from the pet section. It would cost a fortune. And my day would be shot.

A few minutes later, we parked in town. I put a leash on the dog, stepped onto the sidewalk, and stopped short.

By the curb, two houses from where we’d parked, I saw three bales of straw. I grabbed my husband’s arm and tugged him to the bales. “Okay. This is totally a God thing. Someone’s getting rid of their fall decorations.”

My husband wasn’t so sure about the God thing. “They probably unloaded them there and using them later. Bales of straw

“Look, they’re old. They have black spots on the sides,” I told him. “Why don’t we ask the people who live here if we can take some.”

“Maybe, if they’re still here after our walk…”

I gawked at him. I’m a person of immediate action. Plus, I’m super competitive. Those were now our bales of straw. God gave them to us. No one, and I mean no one, was getting his mitts on them before we did.

I gave my husband a little push toward the driveway. “The owners are sitting by the porch. Go ask. The worst they can say is ‘no,’ and you feel like a dork.”

He sighed and then shuffled down the driveway. A minute later, he came back and shrugged. “You were right, they said take as many as we want.”

I stood with our dog as my husband pulled up the jeep and began loading the bales inside. And I thought about God. I hadn’t even prayed yet about finding straw bales, but here they were, sitting on the curb, right where we’d parked. Sure, I was thankful that the straw was free. And I was beyond thrilled that we’d no longer need to spend hours tracking down a nice farmer or spreading the contents of a gazillion little hay bags over the grass seed.

But God was showing me something. And I knew what it was.

This last year or so has been full of struggles. Rejection—lots of rejection. And lots of waiting. Heartbreaking loss. Fading dreams. Bewilderment. Feeling useless and lost. Trying to bloom where I’m planted and not doing a very good job of it. Wondering why God’s will seems so muddled.

holding Bible

With both hands, I’ve been clinging to God’s promise that He’ll never leave me or forsake me. But sometimes I’ve felt doubt loosening my fingers, one by one. And when that happens, God had sent me reminders that His eye is upon me. The perfect verse-of -the-day on my Bible app. A phrase in the message at church. A friend reaching out. A pink and orange-painted sunrise. A smile from a stranger. A kiss from a loved one. Peace wrapping around me like a blanket, still warm from the dryer, when I least expect it.

So the next time I feel doubt creeping in and question whether God sees me, I know what I’ll tell myself:

You bet your straw bales He does.

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My Crossing Guard

“Did you just wake up?” my daughter asked after I’d croaked a late-morning “hello” into my phone.

“I’ve been awake since six-thirty this morning” I said in a scratchy voice. I cleared my throat several times and tried again. “I just haven’t talked to anyone today, except the dog.”

After I hung up, I realized I’d been hearing the same question from other people who called during the day. Or sometimes they’d  ask if I’m sick. And I guess I couldn’t blame them for wondering. After all, my normal daily routine consisted of waking up at 6:30 a.m., praying, reading my Bible, eating breakfast, writing, having lunch, then more writing until it was time to make dinner. I didn’t need my voice to do any of those things, and often the first time I’d talk was when someone called or my husband came home from work.winnie listening

Unless, of course, you count the dog.

So when our school district began seeking a crossing guard for the elementary and middle-school students who walk to school, I jumped at the chance. Not only would I have the opportunity to serve children by helping them across busy intersections, but I’d interact with them too. Plus, the hours were perfect—one early morning and one afternoon shift each day. During the six-hour gap, I could continue writing.

I now spend my mornings and afternoons chatting with delightful children, parents, joggers, walkers, bus drivers, high schoolers. I don a bright-orange reflective vest and wield a red-flashing stop sign. Not sure what the middle schoolers think about the sign, but the elementary kids think it’s super cool.

The job is a lot of fun, but it’s serious business too, especially in the mornings when students are walking to school in the dark. Therefore, when I’m crossing children, the first rule is this:

I go before they go.

intersectionWhile the child stands a few feet behind the curb, I raise my super-cool, red-flashing stop sign and enter the street just in front of the crosswalk line closest to the intersection. I hold up my free hand to the drivers on my left, and with my palm facing them in a “stop” position, I make eye contact with them until they stop. I then face the intersection, walk half-way across the road, stop in the center, and make eye contact with oncoming drivers, including those turning into the intersection.crossing guard

After I’m certain that all drivers see me and remain stopped, I turn my head toward the children and tell them it’s safe to cross. Again, I make sure I remain before them. When they step into the street, I remind them to walk behind me, not in front of me, so I can continue scanning traffic and protect them.  Only when the children step onto the opposite sidewalk, safe and sound, do I return back to the curb.

God has used my new job to give me fresh insight into the meaning of Deuteronomy 31:8.

“…The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (NIV)

In other words, God is my crossing guard.

When I’m facing problems or fears or uncertainty—life intersections filled with heavy, confusing, overwhelming traffic obscured by darkness—he promises that he will go before me into the fray.

intersection busy

After God tells me it’s safe to cross, I don’t need to be afraid to step off the curb or discouraged by the obstacles I see. He assures me that he will protect me, guide me, keep me from harm not only when my foot touches the street but as I travel the entire journey through that crosswalk. And when I reach the other side, grateful for his everlasting presence, I’ll feel his eyes upon me while I continue my walk toward home.

And when I encounter the next intersection, I can trust that he’ll be waiting.

Ready to go before me again.

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Where, Oh Where, Are This Year’s Christmas Cards?

I direct a frown at my empty mailbox

And shake my head with a sigh.

I peer once again into the abyss, then

I open my mouth and cry:

Christmas poem border“Where, oh where, are this year’s Christmas cards?

Oh where, oh where, can they be?

Last year by this time I had fifty or more;

One year a hundred and three.”

Christmas poem borderI ease the box closed, go back in my house, but

It’s warmth offers little balm.

Only five measly cards hang on the archway,

And one is from chewy.com

Christmas poem borderCould the problem be that I have the wrong month?

I am a blonde, after all.

So I hurry into the kitchen and gawk

At the calendar on the wall.

Christmas poem borderBut I see December written in bold font,

And calendars never lie.

I lift my hands to the heavens above and

let out a bewildered cry :

Christmas poem border“Where, oh where, are this year’s Christmas cards?

Oh where, oh where, can they be?

Have I done something to offend all my friends?

Has family forgotten me?”

Christmas poem borderAs I sink deep into the depth of despair,

And my heart fills up with grief,

I suddenly gasp; the reason seems clear!—

This is the work of a thief!

Christmas poem borderWhile I’m writing on my computer each day,

With eyes focused on the screen,

A sneaky old Scrooge steals those cards from my box

And runs before he is seen.

Christmas poem borderHe takes them all home and pretends they are his;

That’s how he gets his thrills.

If he’s going to poach then the least he could do

Is abscond with all my bills.

Christmas poem borderNo, that’s silly; no bandit would want to take

My Christmas cards on the sly.

I’m not a victim of a holiday heist,

So I can’t help but still cry:

Christmas poem border“Where, oh where, are this year’s Christmas cards?

Oh where, oh where, can they be?”

It’s not the wrong month or a Scroogey thief, yet

My mailbox is still empty.”

Christmas poem border“The neighbors!” I shout to my startled brown dog.

“That’s where my cards must all be.

The mailman delivered to them by mistake,

The cards that were meant for me.”

Christmas poem borderWithout a thought for a coat or warm boots

I sprint across snowy yards.

I hammer on all of the neighboring doors,

And ask for my Christmas cards.

Christmas poem borderBut, alas and alack. My neighbors all say,

“You have no Christmas cards here.”

I trudge home again with my head hanging low,

And wipe away a lone tear.

Christmas poem border“Where, oh where, are this year’s Christmas cards?

Oh where, oh where, can they be?”

I slouch on my couch with my empathic dog, 

Who eyes me with sympathy.

Christmas poem borderDejected and dismal, I slump and I scowl.

 And then, I finally see.

Could it be that no one sent me cards because

They didn’t get one from me?

Christmas poem border“The busyness,” I confess to my brown dog,

“Kept me from Christmas greetings.

The shopping, the baking, the merry making;

The season is too fleeting.”

Christmas poem borderBut if I’m too harried to send Christmas cards

In the short time I have free,

Then how can I expect family and friends

To address a card to me?

Christmas poem border“I’m a fool,” I say to my  heedful hound.

“I’ve been so darn cavalier,

To let Christmas pass without sending a card

To those I hold so, so dear.”

Christmas poem borderI dig out the Christmas card box in my desk;

I sit and turn on the light.

I bring up my contacts, and starting with “A”,

I open a card and write,

Christmas poem borderHere, oh here, is this year’s Christmas card,

Oh here, it’s long overdue.

I thank the good Lord that you’re part of my life

Today and always. Love, Sue

Update on My Latest Publication

I’m so thankful to all of you, who have blessed me with your readership, comments, prayers, and encouragement.

I wanted to tell you all about “The Wannabe.” It’s a humorous true story about the time I prayed for God to send someone to help my sister and me when we found ourselves stranded on a side road. God answered, but I wasn’t prepared for the man He sent… Michigan book cover

“The Wannabe,” appears in Michigan’s Emerging Writers—An Anthology of Nonfiction.  You can order a copy by clicking HERE

 

 

 

 

You can also read “The Wannabe” in America’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Nonfiction. In November, Z Publishing House chose forty-six works out of the more than 2,000 they accepted into their 2018 Emerging Writers series to publish in their nationwide edition, and I feel so blessed that they America's Emerging WRiters coverincluded “The Wannabe” in their selection. You can order a copy at the Z Publishing House website by clicking on  HERE  or at Amazon  by clicking  HERE

May God bless and keep you all as you journey into December and immerse yourselves in the joy and hope of Jesus’ birth.

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It’s a Dog Drool Kind of Autumn

I love autumn leaves. The way they dapple yards and sidewalks with splashes of color. The way they smell in the swirling, windbreaker breeze. The way they dance with goldenleaves for fall charm and blushing grace on the backdrop of sunny, sky-blue days.

The way they get stuck in my boxer’s drool.

Of course, a leaf or other debris glued to my boxer’s drool isn’t exactly an anomaly. My boxer, Winnie, drools all the time. When she’s happy, sad, excited, scared, or nervous. When she has an upset tummy from eating used tissues, soiled napkins, Easter IMG_3865chocolates, bar soap, gum (our fault—we left them lying on the floor within easy reach). Or rabbit poo, deer poo, feathers, the McDonald’s bag someone threw in our ditch (her fault—who in their right mind would eat that stuff?).

It’s not the comeliest of habits, I admit, and certainly not lady-like. But we love Winnie anyway and definitely prefer strings of saliva swinging from her mouth to her propensity to pass gas with room-clearing ferocity.

On the bright side, we never need to buy WD-40. (Just kidding.)

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Because my husband and I want to savor autumn’s colorful canopy before the leaves drop and another toe-numbing Michigan winter sets in, we jog in town as often as we can. And when Winnie was younger (she’s a doggy senior citizen now),we often took her with us, since we needed to give her plenty of exercise to keep her from bouncing all over the house and driving me crazy. And Winnie loved our runs—the sound of neighborhood dogs barking, the alluring scents on every tree trunk and fire hydrant, the hope of finally catching a preoccupied squirrel. But the people who were out and about got her most excited.20181024_180231

Did I mention that Winnie drools when she gets excited?

Believe it or not, the slimy excretion emanating from her laughing mouth did nothing to deter people from stopping in their tracks and asking, “Can I pet your dog?”

IMG_3861 (1)Each time, my first reaction was to consider asking, “Why would you want to do that?” Because, by this time, frothy drool covered her mouth and hung down either one or both sides of her floppy jowls. Or, on occasion, a vigorous head shake had flung the ribbon of drool upward, causing it to wrap around the top of her head. And these people wanted to pet her?

My only conclusion was, and still is, that Winnie entrances everyone. Maybe it’s her rich fawn and white coat and striking markings. Or her stub tail rotating her entire rear end. Personally, I think it’s her bug eyes that draws people in and makes them oblivious to what’s happening lower down her face.

But instead of  looking at these expectant people like they had two heads, I’d smile and say, “Sure. But I want to give you a heads up; she’ll slime you.”

A statement that never stopped anyone.

Winnie doesn’t do anything in halves, so meeting someone involves sneezing, snorting, prancing, and finally gluing her body to her new friends’ legs. And when her besotted admirers gave her one last pat and stepped away, they’d attempt to wipe sticky slobber from their hands and a plethora of little dog hairs from their pants. And across their thighs? A line of foamy dribble.

Can’t say I didn’t warn them.

What does a salivating boxer have to do with our big God? I could write about the things people usually write about their dog—that they exude unconditional love and loyalty. But I think Winnie is God’s way of saying…

Have fun.leaves for fall

Greet new friends with unabashed  enthusiasm.

Laugh at the future.

Never give of yourself in halves.

Don’t worry about a little drool on your face.20181024_180946 - Copy

This autumn, our graying Winnie can no longer keep up with us when we jog. Instead, she prefers a simple amble through town, where she still sniffs fire-red bushes, tries to make friends with hissing kitties, and pricks her ears at lingering squirrels.

And still gathers leaves in her trailing drool.

Ah, fall.

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Dune Dilemma, Part II (or Will I Ever Reach Lake Michigan?)

IMG_3528Last week, after I posted Part I of “Dune Dilemma (or Will I Ever Reach Lake Michigan?)”, I received comments asking me to hurry up and finish the story. So, without further ado, here’s the rest…

If you remember from Part I, it was after eight o’clock in the evening. Exhausted from a three-hour hike through clumps of poison ivy, hungry from missing dinner, and disappointed from my failure to reach Lake Michigan that day—not once, but twice—I definitely was not in the mood to help the worried-looking young Asian-Indian man pacing a few feet below us on the sand dune. But because God had reminded me that I was a Christian, my husband and I now stood with the man, where we all stared down the steep 450-foot slope at the group huddled far below.

“Something’s wrong with one of my friends down there,” he said with an Indian accent, “but they’re cell signal is very bad.” He tapped numbers once again, spoke in loud and insistent Hindi, and lifted his hands in frustration as he made little headway with his friends on the beach. He soon ended the call and rubbed his hands over his face.

“Do you know what’s wrong with your friend?” I asked.

“All I know is that he is dizzy,” the man said. “My other two friends are giving him water, but I don’t know if it’s helping.”

I squinted at the darkening sky. “We should call 9-1-1.”

The man, however, didn’t seem too thrilled with that idea. “Let me try calling again.”

“Use my phone,” my husband said. “Maybe you’ll have better luck.”

While the man’s fingers punched the screen, another young man walked up the dune and panted beside us. “Are you guys with that group down there?”

I explained the situation until the Indian man gave up and handed the phone back to my husband. The second man wiped his brow. “I work for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, but I’m off duty now and decided to hike here tonight. That guy down there is probably dehydrated. He’s not making it back up here before dark.”

“I think we should call 9-1-1,” I reiterated.

The second man pointed toward the beach. “If I go down again, I can lead them south along the shore.” He pulled out his phone, brought up a map, and showed it to the Indian man. “If you drive out of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, you can take the highway and then a bunch of these little roads to a parking lot. Walk about a quarter mile, and you’ll be at the water; that’s where we’ll meet you. So, to get there, just follow M-109…”IMG_4446

As the Indian man listened with a furrowed brow, I leaned close to my husband. “That poor Indian guy looks totally lost.”

My husband stepped closer to the second man. “Hey, how about showing me those roads.”

The second man went over the route once more and put away his phone. “I’m heading down; see you soon.”

We watched him begin his sliding descent and then turned back to the Indian man.

“You have a car here?” my husband asked.

“Yes,” the Indian man answered.

“And you know where you’re going now?”

“Ah…” The Indian man stared at my husband.

My husband pulled out his phone again. “Okay, we’re here. Drive out of Pierce Stocking and go south on 109…”

My husband pointed out roads and turns, and the Indian man kept nodding. And the more he nodded, the more convinced I was…

This guy had no idea where he was going.

When the Indian man bobbed his head once more, I laughed—not out loud, but one of those little ironic chuckles that you do inside yourself. When God had asked me to help, I was thinking in terms of a half hour, max. But, as he often does, God was asking me to stretch myself, to stick with his plan despite the fact that my stomach was growling, the sky was fading from slate blue to gray, and I was throwing away any lingering hope of washing off poison ivy.

I touched the man’s arm. “Would you like to follow us there?”

He let out his breath in a relieved rush. “Yes, thank you.”

I gave my husband a please-don’t-protest-and-just-do-it glance. And, because he’s a kind man, as well as adept at reading my eye dialogue, he sighed and motioned to the Indian man. “Come on. We’ll go together.”

At the speed limit of twenty miles per hour, we crawled along the three-and-a-half-mile stretch from the Dune Overlook to M-109 with our new Indian friend trailing behind our pickup. Fifteen minutes later, we pulled into a desolate parking lot, got out of our vehicles, and walked down a dirt track toward Lake Michigan.

While we waited on the beach and kept expectant eyes turned north, we learned that the Indian man’s name was Aamod. He was twenty-five years old, came to the United States to attend college, and now worked in New Jersey. He and his friends were at Sleeping Bear Dunes as part of a bachelor party, and even though they had hiked all day, three of his friends still wanted to tackle the 450-foot climb that evening. And the hapless man suffering from dizziness at the bottom?

The future groom, getting married next weekend.

After twenty minutes, I decided that we’d waited long enough. “They aren’t coming,” I said. “We should go back.”

“I have a feeling,” Aamod said, “that we need to stay.”

I sighed, mentally pushed dinner back yet another half hour, and faced the water.

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In the lingering dusk, heavy with moisture, a lake-born breeze cooled my skin while the water’s gentle lap quieted my soul. On the horizon, the last vestige of a brazen orange-and-pink sunset reflected on the slumbering Lake Michigan. I squatted on the damp sand and filtered the dark water through my fingers again and again, feeling it rinse away the weariness of the day.

My husband ambled up behind me and squeezed my shoulder. “What are you thinking?”

“I was thinking—I made it to Lake Michigan. Today. Not tomorrow.” I looked up at him. “God’s good, isn’t he?”

He bent and kissed the top of my head. “He sure is.”

Ringing broke the solitude, and Aamod lifted his phone. “They have a signal,” he announced before chattering away in Hindi. A minute later, he hung up and turned to us. “The man from the park decided my friend could not make it to us. He ran up the shore and called an ambulance, which picked them up off a smaller road north of us. We can go back now.”

I rolled my eyes—inside again. Who’d said to call 9-1-1 in the first place? Then again, God had brought me to Lake Michigan…

We hustled to the parking lot, where my husband noticed Aamod’s questioning look and said, “We’ll take you back to the overlook.”

As we meandered along the tree-lined roads, I nudged my husband. “Good thing he’s following us. Look; he’s so distracted he forgot to turn on his headlights.”

“There’s a stop sign ahead; I’ll get out and tell him.”

But as we braked at the intersection, an ambulance drove up the dirt track on our left ambulance lightand halted at the stop sign.

“I bet that’s them,” I said.

My husband rolled down his window, waved to the ambulance, and hopped out of our truck. In the rear-view mirror, I saw Aamod’s interior lights flicker on as he too exited his car.  They spoke to the ambulance driver, and a minute later, the EMT released Aamod’s three friends from the back, including the sheepish future groom, who sipped water and shrugged in embarrassment.

After loading his friends into the car, Aamod came back to our truck, shook my husband’s hand, and nodded at me. “Thank you so much for your help.”

“Our pleasure,” I said. And meant it.

My husband released Aamod’s hand. “Heading back to your hotel?”

“No. Back to the overlook. More of my group is there now, waiting for us to pick them up. And…er…”

My husband chuckled, on the outside. “Say no more; we’ll take you back. And, by the way, turn on your headlights.”

A few minutes before ten o’clock—with Aamod still driving sans headlights—we turned onto Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and pulled onto the shoulder. Aamod eased his car beside us, and a chorus of further “thank you’s” echoed out the open passenger-side window.

“This drive goes in a circle, so you can’t get lost,” my husband said. ” And you’re headlights are still off.”

“Oh!” Aamod fiddled with knobs and buttons and grinned at us when he finally found the right one. “All set. Thank you again.”

campfireBack at the campsite, we showered, started a campfire, and ate an eleven-o’clock dinner through frequent yawns. While chomping down my second piece of barbecued chicken, I reflected back on the evening with the kind of peaceful contentment that comes from following God’s will. I’d served a man in need. I’d touched Lake Michigan and ran its cool water over my fingers. And I’d learned more about the goodness of my big God.

By the way, neither my husband nor I ever got poison ivy.

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