When to Keep Your Mouth Shut, Promise-Maker

A few days ago, I started a series titled When to Keep Your Mouth Shut. You can read the first post and inspiration behind the series here.

Day 2 - Ecclesiastes 5_2

Standing under the cypress trees on the shore of Fairhope Bay looking up through the boughs as the sun filters down to the ground below. Dappled light. A cool breeze. The sound of the waves and the shore birds drowning out the cares of the day.

Standing beside those massive trunks it is easy to feel small, humble, diminutive. How then do we so easily lose that frame of mind when we come into the presence of Almighty God?

The folly of an empty religious profession, of empty promises, of going through the motions before a sovereign God. I am among the chief offenders.

As Matthew Henry writes in his commentary: “Never let our tongue outrun our thoughts in our devotions… Thoughts are words to God, and words are but wind if they be not copied from the thoughts. Lip-labour, though ever so well laboured, if that be all, is but lost labour in religion.”

Lord, help us to form words that are more than just wind to you, words from a sincere and humble heart. Praise be to God.

©2015-2017 Our Lives in Stories

When To Keep Your Mouth Shut, Calamity Jane

Several weeks ago, a friend pinned a photo to Pinterest that caught my attention. It wasn’t particularly beautiful as Pinterest photos go. No gorgeous shot of someone’s garden, latest home improvement project, or sunset photo to top all sunset photos. It was a snapshot of an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper, slightly bent in the middle but otherwise in decent condition.

The paper was a printed list of some sort. It has begun to fade ever so slightly. And someone highlighted much of the content in yellow.

Seeing as how this photo stood out among the jewels of Pinterest for having no luster or curb appeal whatsoever, and being the nosy… errr, inquisitive… person that I am, I had to stop and take a look at the title printed in large font across the top of that piece of paper: When to Keep Your Mouth Shut. Hmmm… Talking to me, aren’t you God?

The paper is a list of Bible verses that warn of situations in which we should take care to keep our mouths closed. Not doing so seems to be a problem everywhere we turn. I will step forward and say that I am among the chief offenders.

A situation arises. Within 2.46 nanoseconds I have made observations, sized up the matter and the motives, and formed an opinion. Sometimes I do not take care to keep my mouth shut and out flies said opinion. Maybe I need to linger over this list for awhile?

The evidence of a culture unable to keep its mouth shut is absolutely everywhere. Children and their parents have no qualms about back-talking teachers, preachers, librarians, flight attendants, nurses, even law enforcement. Television is loaded with “talk shows,” most of which turn into shouting matches and serve no purpose other than stirring up discontent among the masses.

Social media has its own sad contribution to make to the problem. We bully one another with our opinions, our beliefs, our inability to keep our mouths shut. We cry for peaceful dialogue and mutual understanding but seem unable to comprehend what that entails… probably because we can’t hush long enough to think and listen.

In the spirit of letting the Word of God do its work, so begins the first in the When To Keep Your Mouth Shut series.

I chose the first verse for its irony because of a particular word in the NIV translation.

Day 1 - Proverbs 21_23

My current facebook profile picture is a meme featuring a picture of Calamity Jane egging people on to go ahead and be a legend if the urge overtakes them. I chose that picture after a particularly horrible week of everything mechanical breaking down that possibly could at my house. It’s been awhile, but I seem to remember we had a vehicle and at least one appliance failing, and we were dealing with plumbing issues as well.

The abundance of calamity in my life at that time prompted a friend to refer to me as Calamity Jane and me to pick that meme. This was not self-imposed calamity but that which comes as a part of living in a fallen world. Things break down and circumstances don’t always go well — the mostly unavoidable stuff.

However, according to the Proverbs, there is another kind of calamity that is self inflicted — the kind that comes from not keeping our mouths shut. I seem to have so much of the former type of calamity that I think I’ll pay better attention to the Scriptures so as to avoid the latter.

Lord, help us to guard our mouths and keep our tongues from calamity with our families, our friends, in “real life” and on social media. Praise be to God.

©2015-2017 Our Lives in Stories

Insecta Gargantua or The “Stinky” Truth About Spring

Spring is indeed here. The Springtime Roundup post from a few days ago contained photos of many of the lovely little flowering plants and berry vines that managed to make a fantastic debut on our property with little to no help from me. While that photo collage was lovely, it doesn’t quite capture the “stinky side” of springtime.

I began work on a back flower bed a couple of days ago, only to have the work halted almost immediately by a monstrous underground ant nest. Several of those jumbo-sized pests made their way onto my hands and feet. Let’s just say the run-in was unpleasant for all parties. Sam applied ant killer and suggested I wait several days before tackling work in that area.

About midday today we picked more dewberries. Some are left for the birds. But those growing on vines around the back of the house are fair game for humans. Only after placing the berries in a bowl did I find a third party who had taken an interest in the juicy black fruit. Worm and Berries

After discovering the little fellow I tried desperately to remember whether or not I’d popped any of those berries into my mouth before bringing them indoors. I’m going with “No, I certainly hope not,” on this one.

Dobby was awakened from her nap by the ruckus over the worm’s discovery. She was less than impressed at my angst. I made my apologies for disturbing her beauty sleep and placed the newly washed berries in the refrigerator.

Worm Animal Comments

After supper we played with the animals in the yard. Holly wasn’t quite sure whether she should get in on the game her dad was playing with the cats. Her feline sisters’ fascination over a dried stick with dangling branches was lost on Holly. Her serenade of questions didn’t seem to bother the cats much, though.

Dangling Branch Game

I took over the dangling stick game so Sam could have a break. He went inside while both the cats and I got a bit of exercise and Holly played referee. Our party came to a crashing halt, however. We could hear it coming in the air before it arrived.  BBBBBBRRRRRRRTTTTTTT…. like a helicopter flying low. And arrive, it did. Latched right on to the side of my pants and refused to turn loose.

At first glance I thought it was a cicada, though it isn’t quite time for them yet. My confusion was understandable as it was dusky and I was in a mild state of panic, growing stronger by the millisecond thanks to Insecta Gargantua attached to my leg. Beating it with the dangling stick didn’t do a thing. Shrieking for help didn’t either. So as a very last resort, I ran.  Sprinted all the way to the back door thinking that would somehow motivate Godzilla to turn loose of my clothing. Nope!

I really had a problem at that point. If I ran inside, Insecta Gargantua would come in, too. I made a very fast appraisal of the situation and praised the good Lord for the bounty of spring that causes the leaves on the bushes and trees to grow thick and full again. Thanks to the wooded area at the back of our property, and the hydrangea bushes that Sam hates so much in the back flower beds, no one could see me… no one but the cats and dog, that is.

My only option was clear. Off came the pants, open flew the door, and in I dove, slamming it behind me.

In the confusion of the second ruckus of the day, my husband failed to adequately understand the situation. He listened to my gibberish and promptly got comfortable on the chaise lounge in front of the television. He thought there was a problem WITH the pants, not a problem ATTACHED TO the pants. Problems WITH the pants should be my jurisdiction. A problem ATTACHED TO the pants should have been his.

Feeling slighted, but determined to win my pants back with no help from man or beast, I found a replacement pair of shorts and made my way into the kitchen. I cautiously opened the back door. There sat the pants, turned inside out just as I’d left them. I gave them a slight kick with my toe. No movement.

I ever so carefully picked the pants up, holding them way out at arm’s length. If that bug came flying off those pants, I wanted it to happen far away from the porch. I marched straight out to the saw horse near the burn pile. I briefly considered torching the pants, bug and all, but thought that would be like conceding defeat.

Ever so carefully and with close examination lest my hand touch something with more legs than me, I turned the pants right side out again. Nothing. I shook them slightly at first and then more vigorously. That ominous buzzing flap of wings we’d heard earlier was followed by a thud and brief skittering in the grass. And then we saw it, staring back at us…  The largest stink bug I have seen in YEARS!

Stink Bugs

The cats were unconcerned about my ordeal and not even remotely interested in this new plaything from Mama’s pants. Holly the pit bull struggled to understand what the commotion was all about. She was more concerned with joining her daddy in the comfort of the living room. Some rescue party they turned out to be.

I’m sure there’s a lesson here but I’m still a bit too perturbed by this evening’s experience to pull it together. I can offer a word to the wise: Don’t be fooled by those lovely pictures of springtime flowers, little bunny rabbits, and puffy happy clouds in the sky. There is danger lurking behind those leaves and in those blades of grass!

For those die hard readers who just must have a moral to every story, “Wash your berries before you eat them” is a great place to start.

©2015-2017 Our Lives In Stories

Springtime Roundup

Spring has arrived in the Deep South. The last couple of days were uncomfortably warm at midday, but pleasant otherwise. However, the weather is fickle. So we don’t hold our breath that conditions will stay this way. It’ll be hot as blue blazes before you know it.

Kat and I have declared the new two weeks to be our Spring Break. We have some work to do over the summer. I am giving us a little extra time to get prepared for that.

I’ve taken advantage of the break from schoolwork and the nice weather to get outside. I had company. Well, except for Dobby, whom we affectionately call “Scaredy Cat.” She hangs around outside except when the wind blows, or a car horn honks, or a garbage truck stops on the street, or a dog barks in the distance, or… Even taking into account her hiding out in the house, I still had more than adequate supervision.

Springtime Pet Roundup
L: Dobby cools her heels in the kitchen. C: Holly has her favorite spot amidst the junk on the back porch. R: Hermione keeps a close eye on Mom’s activities from the shade of the BBQ grill.

My plans are to container garden a few vegetables this year and work on the back beds for flowers. A stroll around the property shows several plants already blooming. Looking forward to growing more!

Springtime Plant Roundup.jpg
Clockwise from top left: Gladiolus, wisteria, roses, “bunny rabbit” cactus, bridal wreath, dewberries, and lantana.

©2015-2017 Our Lives In Stories

The Research Project


administration-1846270_1920Kat and I have studied American Government this year. Our current focus is on the executive branch. The concept needed reinforcing that “federal” doesn’t always mean “located in Washington, D.C.” There are federal, state and local offices of various government agencies in our own hometown.

The textbook we’ve been using was published about 20 years ago. For the most part, it has been wonderful. Just avoiding the Common Core garbage makes it worth its weight in gold. The value and uniqueness of the Constitution is not watered down, and there is no blatant editorializing among its chapters. Just the facts, for the most part.

Due to its age, I have tweaked a few assignments. One short-term research project directed students to use the blue pages of the phone book to research branches of the federal government located in their city. Where are these offices located? What services do they offer? What Cabinet Department do they fall under? Are they independent agencies?

Kathryn located a very skinny modern version of what’s left of the phone directory in print. This gave me reason to pause and reminisce about the “good old days” of phone books, before modern technology meant a reference was out of date almost as soon as it was printed. Back then, every number you could possibly want was within easy reach of even the most technologically challenged. If you could read, you could find a number.

Plus, Grandma had ready-made booster seats for the kiddie table at holiday meals. Child too short to see over the top of the table? Stick the Yellow Pages in his seat and plop him down on top of it. Problem solved.

Back to our situation, I lamented the loss of the blue pages, specifically. Such an incredible resource right there in the middle of the phone book. Government offices and agencies were organized alphabetically by name and level of government.

Surely, I thought, there must be something similar online. Surely, I thought, this would be just another mundane bit of work in the grand scheme of things. My teen would learn how to use the internet to determine where some of our government offices are located and how to look things up should she need this info in the future. Nothing too exciting, right?

This morning’s one-sided conversation over the kitchen table and school books went something like this.

Kat: “There appears to be no blue pages online that I could find. Looking up information on specific government agencies in your town is kind of confusing. You have to know a little bit about where you want to go and what you need before you start. It’s not all listed in one place for you like in the phone book. You have to start with a particular agency and go from there. Sometimes it’s not clear whether the website is for an office located here or somewhere else.

“I did learn that you can get a rap sheet from the FBI here in Mobile. One on yourself or on someone else, I guess, if you wanted one. Oh, by the way, I somehow accidentally downloaded a PDF off the CIA’s website. It seems to be a form used to report counterfeiting. So if you get a call or something from them, it’s probably related to that.”

Me: [Insert cricket chirp…]

Lord, help us.

©2015-2017 Our Lives In Stories

The best laid plans of mice and men
Adapted from To a Mouse by Robert Burns.

Un-Decking the Halls

Today we finally got ourselves into the swing of the New Year. Schoolwork. Housework. Errands. A little bit of time outdoors tending the cactus and what’s left of the pretty green vines Aunt Debbie gave me last summer. Sadly the vines appear to have fallen victim to my brown thumb. One can’t really tend a cactus, I suppose… But I am curious as to why it’s so droopy.

The start of school was delayed by a miscommunication in our schedules, with the flu following right behind. With a one-two punch, the flu knocked out Kat and then me. She recovered more quickly than I did. Being older has its advantages, but not when it comes to doing battle with a virus.

The Christmas tree stayed up into January. New Year in the Deep South was very stormy. Between the fireworks and thunder, the pets were not amused. Hermione sought refuge under the Christmas tree for several days. I didn’t have the heart to take it down until the storms were over and all the neighborhood kids had spent their fireworks. By then I’d caught the flu, too, and really wouldn’t have cared if there’d been a beanstalk growing through the roof.

I’m not one to tear things down and box them up on December 26th, anyway. If I had my druthers, we’d celebrate Christmas the old fashioned way and forget all this Black-Friday-start-to-the-Christmas-season foolishness. I’d much rather carry baby Jesus into the New Year, boxing up the tree and manger at the Epiphany, than dragging out all these sad old resolutions that never make it past Valentine’s. Call me old fashioned. You wouldn’t be the first.

But all is disassembled and put up now. Schoolwork is underway. Thinking ahead to spring vegetables and gardening projects.

Also thinking about our literature selections for the second half of the school year and the can of worms we purposely open with that subject. Literature is a great way to have meaningful discussions about the hard topics, the uncomfortable stuff. That’s what we’re about to do here in January with Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story.

I heard a statistic quite recently (though I can’t remember where) claiming that January is the worst month for suicides and depression. There’s a vacuum of sorts after we’ve un-decked the halls and stare down our shortcomings. And for what? So we can march out a list of those horrid resolutions? Then we’re left to deal with the Christmas bills, expanded waistlines, the Pinterest projects that promise to help us organize our junk in 30 days or less if we’ll just get with the program.

No, thank you. I’ll take baby Jesus over all that any day. The greatest hope we can ever have in the midst of depression was laying in a manager in Bethlehem a couple thousand years ago. He’s still only a prayer away.


©2015-2017 Our Lives In Stories

Dobby The Hunter

While sitting at my computer early this afternoon, I hear a ruckus right outside the back door. It’s a cat, or cats… I can’t quite tell how many. But they are not happy.

Our pampered felines Dobby and Hermione are sisters. Their tiffs are few and far between, usually consisting of overly twitchy tails, flattened ears, and a half-hearted bat or two with their front paws. Nothing to write home about. This incident on the back porch sounds serious. I get up to investigate.

I am half expecting to see two cats puffed up about the tail and spine, shooting daggers out of their eyes at one another. Perhaps they are fighting over something one of them found in the yard. Let me go break this up.

A glance out the window reveals only Dobby up against the door, squalling in disgust about something as yet unknown. Hermione has trotted off into the yard to put some distance between herself and her shrieking sister.

The wails continue. I open the door quickly, convinced now that Dobby is hurt. Is she covered in ants? Stung by a wasp? Bitten by a snake?

Dobby is hunched over guarding her front paw so that I cannot see what is going on. I try talking to her.

“Dobby! What’s wrong, girl? Let Mama see.”

Of course I talk to my animals. That is absolutely prerequisite for all crazy cat ladies, over-the-top dog lovers, and Dr. Doolittles of all ages.

Dobby raises up to a more normal sitting position. As she does so, she flings her front right paw violently. A nearly dead black anole lizard flies through the air into the corner by the laundry room and splats up against the vinyl siding.

OK, then. We weren’t really hurt at all. Just had buyer’s remorse after that pretty reptilian plaything bit down on our paw.

The wailing stopped as soon as the lizard was loose. The poor thing isn’t moving. Not certain if it is really dead or just playing possum. Dobby laid down next to it as if to guard it from those who would steal her booty. I guess hard lessons don’t stick long with cats.

After a short recovery period, during which time Hermione comes in and back out again, and Holly makes the rounds of the back porch area for good measure, Dobby is right back at it. Seems the lizard that bit her was one of several she’s tormented over the last few weeks.

Content to let the biter be for a bit, Dobby decides to go on a treasure hunt for the carcass of one she caught a few days ago. Last word from the back porch is that she’s batting about something small and white that vaguely resembles lizard bones.  But I’ve long since closed the back door and turned on the “No Vacancy” sign.