Saturday, September 24, 2005

Hurricane Rita - Thankfulness

At this point the worst of Hurricane Rita has passed. I am grateful that it entered land in less populated areas. Even the damage in Port Arthur and Beaumont seems to minimal considering the size and strength of the storm. At the present time, there are no reported deaths.

I believe that many people prayed to God to minimize loss of life and property damage before Rita hit land. And I believe that God answered those prayers.

My scripture today:

"May God be gracious to us and bless and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among nations."

God was gracious, we had ample warning, people evacuated, and the storm hit in a way that there was minimal loss of life and minimal property damage. May God be praised for this welcome outcome.

Friday, September 23, 2005

God's Power - Hurricane Rita

I've been using the One Year Bible as a source for personal devotions. Whereas I may not read from it every day, it is a part of my routine. I have been amazed at how sometimes the scriptures I see fit what is going on in the world around me and how they give me inspiration for prayer.

Yesterday as Hurricane Rita built in power over the Gulf my scripture was from Psalm 65. The verse that caught my attention and that I included as part of my prayer said:

You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness . . . . .
who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations.

I prayed that God would stillk the roaring waves of the hurricane driven seas.

While the hurricane grew in power to one of the strongest Category 5 storms on record, it moved over cooler waters. Wind speed went from 175 mph now to 140 mph (Thursday at 11:00 p.m.) God has also sent a cold front that is redirecting the storm away from the most densely populated areas. While I am sure that there will be property damage and some loss of life, I am praying tonight using vs 7 as my scripture base:

Lord God of Heaven, still the roaring of the seas, the roaring of the waves. Please minimize the both the property loss and the loss of life from this storm.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

God's Time

As humans, we measure time in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years. We usually have time estimates as to how long a given task will take. When we get ill, one of our first questions to our doctor is usually how soon will I be well and functioning normally.

Life itself presents many challenges to us as we live it day to day.

As kids, we can hardly wait get our first bicycle, go to school, finish high school etc.

As parents, it is so easy to think such things as:

"I will be SO glad when we are out of diapers."
"I'll be SO glad when he can use words to TELL me what is wrong."
"I'll be so glad when I'm out of college and have a real job."

Today at church one of our families asked us to pray for a crisis situation with their fourteen year old grandson. For many families, teenage years can be rough years. Between individual internal biochemistry issues, emotional problems, puberty, and the need to become independent and individual from parents, this time frame leaves a lot of wounds. One of our favorite words of comfort to people going through such rough times is often: "God's time is not our time."

I was thinking about that today as I was driving in the car. A word picture of this came into my mind. My grandfather bought a farm and farmed it while I was small. We still own that farm and most visits home to my family included a trip to check on the farm and crops. In addition, when the kids were young, I had many vegetable gardens and I planted fruit trees and grapevines.

When you are planting radishes, it takes about three weeks from planting to harvest.
When you are planting corn, wheat, and milo, it takes four to six months from planting to harvest.
When you are planting fruit trees, depending on the size tree you buy, you are looking at getting your "first fruits" in 3-5 years- and several more before it becomes a bountiful harvest.
When you are planting pecan trees, it generally takes 10 years or more (our pecan trees took over 15 years before they started producing.)
The "farmers" who plant forests for lumber are looking ahead 20 years for a harvest of the seedlings they are planting.
Saguaro cactus don't reach "maturity" for 100 years.
Redwoods and sequoia trees live for thousands of years.

So often as we go through the teenage years, the early adult years, we expect God's answers to our prayers to be immediately answered. Human hearts and psychology are very intricate. Even with God's great and almighty power, the best answers to our prayers for human growth and development take years of cultivation, water, and nuture to bear fruit.

So next time you are wrestling with one of life's difficult human challenges - are you really looking for a "radish"? God is looking to create the beauty of a forest, or a tall saguaro, or the stately grace of the redwoods and sequoia trees. Jesus told us about the lily that toiled not, neither did it spin, yet it was beautifully arrayed. Are we not more important to God? While my human desires and lack of patience want a speedy resolution, I've learned that waiting for God's longer more well thought out answer always gives me special blessings and usually an answer beyond anything I could have thought up for myself.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

TV Thoughts

Chris asked what shows had caught my attention. Since I'm hoping some day to be a published Christian writer whose blog might some day come under scrutiny, I had some reservations about publicly listing what shows I'm going to explore. Among the Christians I know, there are a wide variety of tastes and beliefs. Even in the 21st Century, I hear arguments that science and religion must be in conflict. The Harry Potter books and movies are also controversial in the Christian world. I have good friends on both sides of the fence. Some find Harry Potter to be delightful fantasy-a fun and harmless use of imagination that has encouraged many children to enjoy the wonderful world of books again. Other Christians find the witchcraft elements - however unbelievable to be a dangerous and perhaps sinful influence on young minds.

Because of our involvement in the Science Fiction community these past 30 years, I can say truthfully that while there are atheists and agnostics in that community, there are also faithful Christians who both write and read science fiction. There is a group at World Con each year that makes sure there are worship services. Some years there are even Jewish services.

I have found over time that I like many fantasy books - some include magic, but not necessarily "witchcraft." Some of these have magic as an innate ability (Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover books and Katherine Kurtz Deryni series for example). Others are more like Superman in that the planet where the story originates has special geology or chemistry, or plants, etc that give the characters their "super" powers. Terry Pratchett's Ringworld series with his amazing suitcase are light, funny and I find them delightful to read.

Some writers, however, explore darker aspects of both human nature, and good versus evil. Some I can read and enjoy when good triumphs over supreme evil because there are noble and good characters. Some books are just too dark with no "redeeming" qualities.

I read some books because I have met the author or heard the author speak on panels. When I am impressed with someone, I will try to read one of their books. I was impressed with Ellen Kushner's presentation at one of the World Fantasy Conventions. She has a wonderful show on PBS radio. I also saw Delia Sherman on panels and was impressed. While I made it through their book "The Fall of the Kings," I can't recommend it as Christian reading - too dark, and way too much evil. I look for redemption and I don't remember finding any. It really left a bad taste in my mouth. I'm not sure I will pick up another book written by either of these ladies.

I'm sure that after a few episodes, some of these shows will drop quickly off my radar. I intended to watch all of Battlestar Galactica. But Henry lost interest quickly in the show. After I mentioned that I was finding it dark, he went ahead and deleted it from the TIVO. I probably would have waded through it, just because there are some impressive things about the show. But the plots had some pretty dark elements - and the filming style accentuated this "darkness." Being a continuing series, I would want to pick back up where I left off. But there are other shows that I find so much more enjoyable that I'm not sure I want to spend my time watching humanity struggle to survive. Life has enough difficult and painful moments, I want my TV to be relaxing and fun - not to add stress.

So . . . . . . here's my initial list:
"Ghost Whisperer"
"Out of Practice" (Henry Winkler ande Stockhard Channing - HAVE to give it a shot. I saw Winkler on Broadway - NOT Fonzie anymore!)
"Threshold" (Brent Spiner - another have to see what he's up to)
"Three Wishes" (Amy Grant . . . . it seems to be in conflict with two other shows already set up, I'll have to figure out what the conflict is - perhaps I'll watch that one "live".)
"Night Stalker"

I've seen the first episode of "Supernatural." It seems to be going down the "scary" side. While it seems to have "good" characters fighting evil, the evil is pretty intense. It may fall off the radar quickly due to the "darkness element."

I don't care much for most sit coms - and I don't have any interest in "Reality TV" at all.

Other continuing shows that I like Monk, Medium, Veronica Mars, Smallville (although it wandered off onto the dark side last year), I have not watched any Wildfire yet, but the episodes are sitting there waiting for me. I saw the pilot for the 4400, but I need to see the first season(s) for the new episodes to make sense. I've seen a few Numbers, but not enough to have formed an opinion.

Since I don't get TV Guide anymore, I may have missed some promising shows, but this was what my initial search pulled up. And as Stargate and Stargate Atlantis are wrapping up their season, I'm glad to have some new shows to try out.

Disaster Preparation

I have to agree with my friend, Bettye's viewpoint in her Save Yourself blog that being prepared for emergencies is a personal responsibility. Most of us are procrastinators and because disasters and emergencies are infrequent happenings for most of us, we grow complacent. I know that I periodically fix up a first aid kit, put it in the car and forget about it. When the kids were small, things would get used - and then not always get replaced. At home recently, Henry cut his foot, I had to go out to the RV to find everything I needed, I had not recently replaced bandaids and Neosporin in the house. I always have food in my pantry, but I don't go and regularly clean out the cans that have probably been around several years. So whereas we would eat . . . . . some of the cans might have food that might not be edible. We have a pond in the back yard, but I don't have any water purification supplies (like backpackers use). We did recently purchase a generator - Thomas' house fire provided a good excuse. It is small, loud, and I doubt that we will have a lot of fuel on hand because gasolene "ages" attracting water and clogging carbuerators.

Here's an updated list from the California emergency planning for disastrous earthquakes . . . . . . updated since Katrina.

For the full article from the Los Angeles Times:
Southland Not Ready For Disaster

At home

• Nonperishable packaged or canned food
• A gallon of water per person per day (Replace every six months and count pets as family members)
• Manual can opener
• First aid kit and handbook
• Clothing, rain gear and sturdy shoes
• Blankets or sleeping bags
• Portable radio and flashlight, with spare batteries
• Essential medications
• List of family physicians and the style and serial number of medical devices, such as pacemakers
• Extra pair of eyeglasses
• Extra set of house and car keys
• Toilet paper, toiletries and feminine hygiene items
• Fire extinguisher
• Pet food, water and leash or carrier
• Cash and small change
• Water purification kit or unscented liquid bleach (eight drops per gallon when water is first stored)
• Any special foods and supplies for babies, the disabled or the elderly
• Plastic eating utensils, paper cups and plates
• Heavy-duty aluminum foil
• Paper towels
• Knife or razor blades
• Candles and light sticks
• Matches in waterproof container
• Work gloves and broom
• Hammer and nails
• Coils of rope and wire
• Ax, crowbar and shovel
• Small tool kit
• Cheesecloth (to strain water)
• Large and small plastic bags
• Two tarps, 8 feet by 10 feet
• Local street map and compass
• Paper, pens and stamps
• Entertainment pack of family photos, notebooks, reading material and games

In the car

• Nylon tote or day pack
• Bottled water
• Nonperishable food
• Manual can opener
• Transistor radio, flashlight and extra batteries
• First aid kit
• Gloves
• Blanket or sleeping bags
• Sealable plastic bags
• Moist towelettes
• Small tool kit
• Matches and lighter
• Walking shoes and extra socks
• Change of clothes
• Cash (small bills and coins)
• Local street map and compass

At work

• Dry food, such as candy bars, dried fruit, jerky and crackers
• Water or orange juice
• Tennis shoes or walking shoes
• First aid kit
• Flashlight and portable radio with extra batteries
• Matches
• Small and large plastic bags
• Toiletries
• Entertainment pack of family photos, notebooks, reading material and games

For other life threating situations, I've heard that having family photographs with you can help provide the "will to live", helping provide incentive to keep on fighting to live to stay with your loved ones.

Things to ponder. . . . . . .

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Common Sense Wisdom

A friend of mine has just started a new blog, one of her responses to Katrina. Bettye has a lot of wisdom learned from her grandmother and from a lifetime of working with animals. Her theme, "Save Yourself," gives a lot of food for thought as to what each of us needs to be doing on a regular basis to prepare for the natural disasters that happen. I think you'll find it fun and interesting reading.

Save Yourself

Katrina - More good things

I do a lot of web surfing each day - finding news articles that interest me and following themes that have caught my attention. As with most of the United States, Katrina and its aftermath have been on my mind. Within a week of the storm, I found several blog sites, but one stayed on my radar. It was the blog of a computer specialist who stayed in New Orleans to keep up the system. I found it from the CNN broadcasts. But once I started reading it, it was compelling enough that I continued reading it. Michael Barnett not only weathered the storm but kept computers and the internet live and running for his company from the Central Business District in New Orleans.

While Michael has recently left to join his fiance, the blog is being continued by his replacement. The entire blog is worth reading, but I want to direct your attention especially to the blog from 5:05 pm, September 12th where there are stories of eight people who went above and beyond in their efforts to help people.

Michael Barnett's Hurricane Katrina Blog

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Life with TIVO

While we finally got a TIVO unit last year, Henry has done most of the set-ups to record the shows. Since a new television season is about to begin, I decided to do some research and see if there were any new shows that I might be interested in. Finding a list of new shows online proved more challenging than I first expected. I went to TV Guide's website first, but did not reallly find a consolidated listing. So I ended up going to all the "major" networks' websites - NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, Sci-Fi, WB, USA, etc. to compile a list. In the "good old days", the new fall shows started the same week at all the networks. Now it is really staggered. The Sci Fi channel started its season about 6 weeks ago. Monk just finished his season - now it is rerun time for the obsessive compulsive detective. FOX seems to be starting their season this week. But some of the new shows won't start until the end of the month.

I was pleased that I figured out how to maneuver the remote control to get some programs set up. However, the shows that start more than 2 weeks from now will have to be programmed in later.

In perusing the new shows, it is amazing how many "copy cat" shows. I've enjoyed "Medium" but there are at least one series that sure look like a similar plot. Nice to see several science fictioned themed shows also.

This will be one of the first Fall TV seasons that I've really looked at the choices and tried to watch some of the new shows from the beginning. I'm sure that several will quickly drop off my list, but I'm looking forward to seeing some new offerings. Surely there will be at least one or two new shows that I'll appreciate.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Katrina - Looking for the Good

While my TV watching on Katrina has greatly diminished, I was pleased to see CNN's showcasing the "Angels" on a restaurant TV.

I am also pleased that the people coordinating the shelters and housing in Texas are finding apartments and getting people moved fairly quickly to more permanent quarters. Many of these new situations include 6 months of free rent! This should give people time to get established in their new homes. Also, Austin is already organizing a job fair. I'm sure that the other Texas cities are also doing that. I saw that the government is looking to hire people to help with the cleanup.

I've heard unofficiallly that 80% of New Orleans evacuated. While conditions were horrible at the Superdome in the days after the hurricane, it did provide a location that protected people from the storm itself. Now that they are beginning to recover bodies, it looks as though the death count is not going into the 10,000 figure. Considering how bad the storm and its flooding aftermath, if the actual death count is lower than expected, perhaps that will be considered a miracle also. (For those that lost family and friends, a low death count will not bring your loved one back . . . . . and my heart goes out to you. But considering that this disaster could easily have killed thousands and tens of thousands, perhaps we did better than we are giving ourselves credit for right now.)

Koodoos to the Coast Guard who were among the first rescue personel on the scene pulling people from the housetops and attics. And to all the unsung volunteers who are helping to make this an easier transition for those displaced families.

My heart is warmed by the efforts I see throughout our country (and the world) to help the people that have had devastating losses. Between the community dropoff points for donations, the money donated to the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, the business donations, some of the best aspects of human nature are being showcased.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Nature - On the Back Porch

For several years now, we've had bird feeders around our house. Recently we've had an interesting bird visiting. When I first saw him, I thought he was a juvenile, because his flight was irratic. He flew almost like a cartoon bird - never straight toward his destination. There were times when we wondered if he was going to make it to his destination. At times he hovered much like a hummingbird, but not as effortlessly. When Henry got a closer look, his feathers were in bad shape and his eyes looked almost blind. He was a regular visitor to the feeder so I felt like this feeder was probably keeping him going.

This morning while sitting in my living room I saw a much larger shadow on the back porch. While I caught the action out of the corner of my eye, I could tell something momentous had occurred. We have roadrunners in the yard - and we had one now on the back porch - with a bird in its mouth. I was astonished, because I did not realize roadrunners ate birds! The roadrunner had jumped up to the feeder (4-5 feet off the ground) to get his meal. When I first saw the situation the smaller bird was probably still alive, but damaged. I watched the roadrunner briefly before he disappeared with his prey further into the yard and out of site. The smaller bird was no longer moving with feathers disarrayed.

Perhaps I'm tendered hearted, but I'm pretty sure it was our weak bird. I allowed myself a few moments of grief for this handicapped bird. It is a fact of nature that it is the weak and injured animals that are the easiest prey. But it is also part of human nature to protect the weak and helpless.

I had always assumed that roadrunners ate insects. But Henry did some research this morning after the fact - they eat insects, small rodents, small birds, baby birds and small snakes. Since we found baby rattlesnakes right by the house last month, I'm still glad we have roadrunners in the yard. I had also been glad when I realized that my bird feeding had attracted a Cooper's hawk to the yard on a regular basis, realizing that Cooper's hawks feed on smaller birds. A mystery to me is why I was more disappointed about the roadrunner's feeding than I would have been had it been the hawk. But I think it was because the victim this time was an individual bird we had connected with on an emotional level - an underdog we were rooting for.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Thoughts on Hurricane Katrina

This past week I have watched more news programming than I normally do in a year. The images from New Orleans, Biloxi and the other devasted areas brought home the harshest realities of nature. As humans, we think we have so much control over our environment - we dam rivers, build levees to control mighty rivers, harness the wind with wind turbines, build amazing roads over the roughest mountain terrain, and construct sea walls to protect our cities from mighty storms. We think that we can plan for every emergency. But this year, our world has been confronted by unprecedented natural catastrophies - the Tsunami in the Pacific and now Katrina in the US.

We have big expectations for our government also. When a disaster occurs, we have look to our governments for protection and rescue. I can remember other hurricanes in the gulf that came near New Orleans and the fears and projections for what a large category 5 storm could do. They even ran a drill last summer to be prepared for exactly this emergency. But even the best laid plans can be impossible to execute in face of a catastrophe as large as Katrina. While President Bush declared the area as disaster even before the hurricane hit, many things went horribly wrong. The Superdome protected thousands of people during the wrath of the storm, but no preparations were made for food or water or police supervision. The Coast Guard was on the scene immediately (as were other private boats) rescuing people from flooded homes and trees. Not only was New Orleans devasted but also the Mississippi and Alabama coast areas. Initially, the storm seemed to do minimal damage to New Orleans, people (including government officials) breathed a sigh of relief . . . . . . and then in the darkness of night, the levees failed. People who had been relatively safe in their homes were now fighting a battle to live by climbing into attics and onto roofs. People left in the city - some out of fear and desperation looted to get needed food and water to survive. Others looted out of greed. The worst aspects of human nature were manifested during the criminal looting, and the attacks at the SuperDome.

Communications failed within the city - while the news crews had satellite links - and kept much of the world apprised - the emergency crews could not commmunicate and coordinate essessential services. Could we have done better - no doubt. On the other hand, this event was much worse than the other hurricanes that have hit our country. It is so easy to want to find some one to blame . . . . . . and yet in life some things just happen. Sometimes there is a strong leader in a community that can organize and keep things moving smoothly. Sometimes leaders are in place who have wonderful skills, but perhaps not the ones needed for this emergency. One reality, the local government in New Orleans and Louisiana somehow failed to take adequate action in the first 24-48 hours. But even the local police were dealing with strong emotions and terrible personal losses. Perhaps more and earlier allocations of National Guard resources and military would have alleviated some of the suffering. But in a catastrophe of this magnitude, it is necessary to do some assessment as to what is needed and how to get it there - wasting precious hours. Apparently the preplanning for what would be needed was inadequate for the reality. But humans are by their very nature imperfect creatures. We are prone to procrastination. Each hurricane that passed without massive damage lulled us into a false sense of security. And once the levee's failed, I'm not sure there were roads open for the need dumptrucks and bulldozers needed. The current was so strong that I'm not sure there was a way to repair the levee until the water had reached the level point and the current no longer existed.

Unfortunately, the most dire predictions have come true. Where there was flooding we have a toxic, bacteria filled sludge. So much of New Orleans and the surrounding area has been destroyed. Throughout the country, we grieve with those folks who have lost everything.

We've heard so much about the things that went wrong. . . . . . But I believe that there are stories of courage and human caring out there. I hope the news media will search them out so we don't lose sight of the goodness that is also a part of human nature. We've heard enough about what went wrong. Let's hear about things that are working as we assimilate the "refugees" of Katrina as they are spread throughout the United States. The volunteers who sorted clothes by size, the doctors and nurses at the hospitals that fought for their patient's lives under such adverse circumstances, the police officers who stayed at their posts during the storm separated from their families, the people who are planning how to care for the animals in distress. There are many amazing stories out there. As a people, we need to hear both the good and the bad.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

One month later

I have learned in my life that when you have a major stressful event happen in your life, it is usually accompanied by other stressful events. The fire was traumatic in many ways. Watching a marriage unravel is also very stressful. Even saying goodbye to a car was more painful than I expected. Having a friend fighting cancer also adds to the emotional mix. The month of August was a time when I did not push very hard. I stayed with my diet and exercise plan and let the month drift by. My sleep schedule was definitely disrupted - I found myself waking up way too early or staying up way too late. The first of September is here - and God has used time to bring some rest and healing for me. I find myself getting more done and a sense of peace is returning to my soul. And, after a plateau, my weight is going down again. I am ready to share again.