The Paperback Bible

My Bible is falling apart.  The maps in the back fell out a few years ago and  I have scotch tape holding together pages. Some pages have scribbles on them from when my kids were toddlers.  The front cover is always bent open from my repeated opening it and the laminate is peeling off. The spine broke and now Psalms 118 to Proverbs 6 are unattached.  It has served me well for a $14.99 paperback bought at a Walmart 15 years ago.

The paperback Bible feels like an old friend.  I’ve referred to it often in the years that I’ve had it.  Looking at it reminds me of the love and faithfulness that God has shown me through various circumstances.  It was with me when my husband and I were separated. I had it with me when we were both jobless with a baby and another on the way.  In the paperback Bible I read that every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17) and rejoiced when he blessed us with a house. It’s familiar pages gave comfort as I was reminded of God’s love and his promises.  

There are lots of annotations throughout the paperback Bible.  It is a record of my thoughts and readings for the past 15 years.  I made a note of the scripture on the cross that’s in the hills above my parents house in Landers (Matthew 6:33) when they first moved there in 2004.  Martin Luther’s words on his deathbed were noted (Psalm 31:5) after I read a biography about him a couple of years ago. I noted the priestly benediction (Numbers 6:24-26) after I heard about it in a sermon about ten years ago.  I’ve memorized it and say it to my kids when I tuck them in bed. I’ve also noted how Psalm 66 and Psalm 100 both start out with the same verse. Corrie Ten Boom mentioned it in her book “The Hiding Place.” Have you ever heard of Psalm 166?  Psalm 66 and Psalm 100 both start the same, so together they are Psalm 166.

In the back of the paperback Bible I have notes written.  The lyrics to “I Surrender All” are written in the back of my Bible.  I heard Faith Hill sing them many years ago on “Oprah” and thought the hymn beautiful.  I wrote down scripture references that my pastor offered when I needed comfort and reassurance.  I recorded the date of my baptism along with the dates of when my husband and daughter accepted the Lord and when they were baptized.  There are also the dates of when we dedicated our kids to the Lord. Baptists must like to do baby dedications on Father’s Day as both kids were dedicated on that day by two different churches.

I learned of God’s love for me through the truths written in the paperback Bible.  It has only been the past year that I have used the paperback Bible’s cross-reference system.  Following the cross references of the Bible’s text taught me about the different contexts that the same phrase or words were used.  This has vastly enriched my Bible reading. I gave my first devotional out of the paperback Bible about worry. Look at the birds of the air and lilies of the field.  God provides for them, “. . . Are you not much more valuable than they?”

I’ve read my paperback Bible many times and each time I learn something new or see a verse in a different way.  The Bible is truly the living Word. But it’s not the paperback Bible that’s important that I keep intact. It’s important that I have the word of God.  My paperback Bible has been around me for a while but it is falling apart. It is passing away but the word of God will never pass away. I will be getting a new Bible soon to replace my paperback.  Rather be sad that I have to retire the paperback Bible I am excited to see what new truths the Lord will show me in his living Word.

Fall in the Desert

Does Fall even exist in the desert?  Some people say there are only two seasons in Twentynine Palms:  Summer and Winter. As some of my east-coast acquaintances put it: Hotter and Hot.  Fall in the desert seems non-existent. One day I am wearing shorts and a t-shirt and sweating in my swamp-cooled house.  The next day I’m digging out my sweatshirt and jeans.

It’s hot here from May to the end of October.  It’s especially difficult to endure the long stretch of hot weather when I see all the cute fall outfits advertised right around September.  The sweaters, leggings, and boots look so cozy and stylish. I should be wearing a light jacket, sipping a hot pumpkin spice latte, while wearing a comfy knitted scarf.  But it’s September – I haven’t even thought about getting out my sweaters and I don’t even own boots. It’s still 100 degrees outside! Everyone else in the country is celebrating Fall while I feel like I’m behind the curve.  I wonder if a pumpkin spice latte tastes good iced?

The trees are still green with leaves but I am beginning to notice a few “weakenings” in our consecutively hot desert days.  It occured to me that perhaps we do have a Fall season in the desert. The changes are so minor that I didn’t notice them happening before.  I present the following as evidence of Fall’s arrival in Twentynine Palms:

  • The swamp cooler/air conditioner shuts off.  I woke up a day or so ago and laid in bed wondering what was different.  Something was off in the usual morning noises. I realized I only heard my ceiling fan and not our swamp cooler.
  • Going into the garage does not feel like entering a broiler.  During the summer my garage is suffocating with heat. It is pleasant to go in there to get something and not rush back in the house again because of the reasonable fear of catching on fire.
  • The wind feels cooler.  It was windy a few days ago and it was refreshing.  It didn’t feel like a hair dryer blowing on my face.
  • The leaves at Luckie Park are changing.  There aren’t many trees in Twentynine Palms, at least trees that aren’t palm trees, but we do have beautiful specimens in Luckie Park.  It’s nice to see the green leaves yellow and flutter to the ground as I’m watching my kids play soccer there.
  • The mornings are slightly cooler.  Going to work in the early morning I notice that I almost need a light sweater.  If it weren’t for the fact that it will get to about 100 degrees later on I probably would wear a sweater.
  • The turkey vultures are drifting through Twentynine Palms.  These huge birds are awesome to see in October soaring high above the desert as part of their Fall migration.   A group of these birds is called a kettle and it’s very impressive to see a kettle roosting in tall trees with their wings spread out, displaying their 70-inch wingspan.  
  • Stater Brothers has pumpkin everything.  I see it as soon as I walk in. I’m affronted by pumpkin muffins, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin donuts, and pumpkin Pop Tarts.  That reminds me, I’d better get some pumpkin Pop Tarts before Staters is sold out.

 

Despite our seemingly never-ending summer there are signs that the hot summer days will not last forever.  There’s an end in sight! The end of October is a few weeks away. Tough it out, my fellow desert dwellers!  In the meantime I am going to try an iced pumpkin latte.

The Lego Castle

“Mom, will you build a castle with me?”  My 7-year old son Logan asked.

His blond hair and blue eyes reminded me of another little boy about his age who asked me that same question about 25 years ago.  My heart squeezed and and I said “Yes, I’ll build a castle with you.”

I got up from the kitchen stool and went with Logan into the guest room at my parents house where the Legos were dumped all over the floor.  They crowded the floor, scattered among the displaced desk drawers and papers. My parents were remodeling this room. I sat on the floor close to the threshold of the room with the Legos before me.  Logan seated himself across from me with his back against the desk drawers. The Legos were spread between us.

My mom kept all the Legos her children played with.  The bricks before us were the same Legos that I played with when I was a girl.  I loved Legos back then and I had quite a collection. In the 1980s and 1990s Lego had pirate and castle lines and those were my favorites.  I had small island hideouts, little pirate row boats, and forrest men tree houses. The star of my collection was a large pirate ship complements of my grandparents for Christmas.  It was the best Christmas gift I ever got from them. It took me all morning and a few tears to put it together. The pirate ship had everything: a captain’s cabin, lots of firing cannons, a parrot and monkey, three tall masts with red and white striped fabric sails, and my favorite:  a female pirate. Back in the early 1990s there were not very many girl characters in the Lego sets.

My little brother added to the collection in the mid to late 1990s with his ninja sets.  Playing with Legos was something we had in common. My brother and I would sit companionably together building with Legos despite our 6-year age difference.   I know the purpose for each uniquely-made Lego block. I know from which set a piece was from and I remember how to use certain pieces for the greatest effect.  It’s like stepping back in time. The quantity of Legos has decreased slightly over recent years. Grandma lets Logan take his creations home sometimes.

I told Logan what pieces to find and I started to build the castle.  We found large doors; those had a special piece to clip them on to, where are they?  There’s one. Good, there’s another one, we’ll need two. Logan collected all the pieces that have the little arrow loops in them.  Those would be the castle walls. He also found a couple of pieces that looked like a bunch of logs fused together. They were about the same size as the arrow loop pieces and were from my little brother’s ninja sets.

Logan found all the accessories to go with a castle: helmets, bows and arrows, swords, cannon, flames, and shields.  His accessories were a mixture of pirates, forrest men and ninja. We worked companionably together on the castle. He finds pieces to use and I find a way to use them.

Logan asked “Can I go swimming?”

“Yes,” I responded.  “Chloe is already in the pool, Grandma’s watching her.”

Logan couldn’t stand the thought of his sister beating him back into the pool.  Everything was a race to those two. He got up and went outside.

Our castle wasn’t finished.  I continued to work on it. I added a second level, making sure everything is reinforced.  There’s nothing worse than placing a Lego guy on a brick and the structure collapses from the pressure.  I added another level and included places to insert the shields into the castle wall. I remembered doing that in one of my forest sets.  

As I build my Dad wandered over to the guest room.

“Reliving your childhood, huh?”  He smiled.

“I guess so” I replied, intent on my building.  Dad chuckled and left me to my work.

I finally finished the castle working alone.  It had two large doors, three levels, two shields in the outer wall, a cannon (Logan’s idea), and battlements.  I wondered why I finished the castle without Logan working with me. I knew Logan would really love the finished product and I had fun building the castle.  Even as an adult there is something satisfying in snapping bricks together.

But there was another reason I finished the castle without my son.  I finished it for that other blond-haired and blue-eyed little boy who asked me that same question 25 years ago: “Do you want to build a castle with me?”

My little brother asked that question repeatedly for a few weeks in the mid 1990s.  I was making my way out of the Lego stage. My pirate ship was dismantled and I was more interested in my friends and boys.  When my brother asked me if I would build a castle with him, I told him no. But he was persistent and kept asking. I kept telling him no.  I don’t remember if I finally acquiesced to building a Lego castle with my brother. I think I did but I don’t know how much of that is wishful thinking, hoping that I did the right thing by my brother.

There is a family resemblance between my son and brother.  So when Logan asked me “Mom, will you build a castle with me?”  I was transported in back time. It was almost like I was building a castle with my brother using the same Legos we would have used 25 years ago.

Coyotes in the Desert

I have the teacher’s edition of the first grade curriculum open in front of me with eager first-grade faces looking up at me from behind their little desks.  I have to give a lesson on carnivores, omnivores, and herbivores. I am substitute-teaching at Condor Elementary School on the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC).  

There’s nothing like accessing prior knowledge when teaching a new concept.  

“Do any of you hear the coyotes at night?”

About 20 heads nod up and down and some reply with an enthusiastic “Yeah!”

“And what do they sound like?”  I knew what their response would be but I couldn’t help myself.  

“Aaaaah – Oooooooh!” Howl about 20 first graders.  Some emphasize their howls with tilting their heads back.

“That’s right!”  I say after the last of them get their howls out.  “Coyotes are carnivores which means they eat other animals.”

I’ve been hearing coyotes howl at night ever since I can remember.  My family would come out to Twentynine Palms to spend the weekend at our small homestead cabin in the outskirts of Twentynine.  It was about 25 minutes to downtown Twentynine Palms with the MCAGCC practically in the backyard. I always associated hearing coyotes as a sign of being in the boonies.

I was surprised when I heard coyotes howl during the first nights at our new home in downtown Twentynine Palms.  It sounded like I had a chorus of coyotes singing for me just outside my gate. Their yip-yips sounded when they celebrated a successful hunt.  One or two of them would cross the street or trot down the road in the early morning. Coyotes are always something to see. Lean and long with coloring to match the desert landscape, they are quite beautiful.  

The coyotes don’t know they are supposed to stay in the boonies.  They are happy to make any quiet place their home. The Twentynine Palms Public Cemetery is surrounded by a chain link fence with large oleanders planted along the perimeter to serve as a windbreak.   People occasionally walk the asphalt paths of the cemetery as it’s a quiet and relatively flat area. I was walking the fence with it’s oleanders one day when movement caught my eye. I walked closer to the side of the fence and startled something out of hiding. Three coyote pups ran out of their den.

“Oh!  I’m sorry, I didn’t know that was your home!”  I tell their retreating figures.

The puppies were cute and small.  They looked like miniature versions of their parents.

We live in-town but we get frequent visits by coyotes.  A large coyote trotted through the alleyway behind our back yard.  A few seconds later two more coyotes followed the first. They were graceful in appearance and purposeful in movement.  Then I remembered that my cat was outside. My 7-year old son spotted the cat high on the limb of a dead tree in the empty lot next door to us.  He’s a smart cat to shimmy up there when those coyotes came through. Coyotes are carnivores after all.

Small dogs and cats keep coyotes well-fed.  I woke to hear my two dogs barking furiously outside at 4:30 in the morning.  I padded over to the blinds in my bedroom window to see what they were barking at.  Both the shepherd and chihuahua mix had their attention fixated at something across the street.  The shepherd’s hackles were raised and his front legs were propped up on our chain link fence.  The chihuahua mix was so excited that she continuously hopped up and down next to the shepherd.  She hopped about a foot or two up the corner of the chain link fence. Then she climbed up the rest of the fence and jumped down on the opposite side and took off like a shot across the street toward the unknown thing.

Once I saw her go over the fence I quickly found my shoes and grabbed the flashlight that we keep above the stove.  I hurried faster when I heard her aggressive barks turn to howls of pain. I opened the front door and went across the street, shining the flash light and looking for our dog.  The light shined on a coyote’s backside trotting down the street away from me. It had our little dog in its mouth and there was nothing I could do. I was incredulous.

One of the most difficult things I had to do was tell my young daughter about what happened to her cherished pet.  A hard lesson to learn.  Living in the desert means I must keep my small pets inside for their own safety. Coyotes are neat to see and a pleasure to hear but they are carnivores and they don’t know they are supposed to stay in the boonies.

The Cemetery Walk

She needed to get out of the house and feel the sun shine on her.  Feeling it’s warmth, feeling the breeze on her skin, and seeing the distant hills in the desert landscape soothes her soul.  Being outside in God’s creation is the best medicine for her. It’s self-prescribed as the best medicine to fight the blues.

She’s been feeling down for the past couple weeks and only realized it a few days ago. Her husband asked if she was okay.  She reflected, and then replied with “No, not really.” When he asked what’s wrong she realized that she couldn’t really say what’s wrong with her.  The monstrous dark cloud of sadness had settled on her and she didn’t even notice it. It’s no surprise really. She’s been dealing with sharp pain in her knee for about two weeks that makes sleeping difficult and working difficult.  She’s come home from work physically and mentally wiped out almost every day for the past two weeks.

Pain in her knee or not she needed to get out of the house and into God’s creation. Not wanting to overdo it, she opts to do a lap or two around the nearby cemetery.  Easy stuff when compared to the 10-12 mile runs she used to do when training for her half marathons only about a year before. She’s proud that she did those halfs and one day wants to do the Los Angeles Marathon.  She was jealous of her two twin cousins who successfully completed the LA Marathon just today. One day, she tells herself.

She sets out to do her 1.5-2 miles.  Walking. Her 7-year old son sees she’s heading out for a walk and asks to join her.  Not this time she tells him. This medicine is best taken alone. She changes clothes, puts on her Garmin watch, pushes the start button as she hits the bottom of the driveway.

It’s a beautiful day outside.  She’s thankful for her long sleeves and hat protecting her from the early summer sun.  In the desert, mid March is the early summer. There’s no such thing as spring here. She walks around the cemetery thinking about how she can fit exercise into her schedule and looking at the far hills with the shadows of the high clouds on them.  Beautiful. Her soul is being fed.

She goes around the cemetery once.  It’s been about a mile and she’s not ready to go home  yet. So she decides to go around a half-lap. The anti-inflammatory medicine her mom gave to take for her knee pain is working great.

The graves she passes each has a story to tell but she doesn’t know their stories.  All she knows are clues to their stories. This one was a beloved mother. This one was a veteran of World War II.  This one had a short life. Walking through the cemetery reminds her that this life is short and and everyday is a blessing.  It always puts her problems into perspective. Do not worry about tomorrow as each day has enough worries of its own.

She’s almost done with her half loop when she sees a grave that is littered with flowers, keepsakes, and mementos.  She walks toward the grave and looks at the grave stone. She gasps when she recognizes the name and picture on the stone.  She knows this story. It’s a former student of hers who died in a car accident a year ago. It was a was tragic and unexpected death.  She sobbed waking back to her classroom from the staff lounge where the principal had gathered the staff to share the news.

She becomes teary-eyed staring at the grave sight.  At the grave there are little figures of Disney Princesses, flowers, large hair bows, a weather-worn Bible, and various other small items. The grave itself was filled with white rock.  She bends down and picks up the few pieces of white rock that have strayed into the surrounding dirt and places them back onto the grave.

After saying a short prayer for the family she resumes her Garmin watch and continues to walk back home.  She ponders over the ways of the world and how some who bless us are in it for such a short period of time.  She wonders about what could have been. How is the family doing now? She feels guilty for being depressed when the family has such profound grief.

She leaves the cemetery with it’s raised white-rock graves and comes onto the street.  There is a bicyclist just leaving his driveway. He turns the corner and pedals toward her.  She recognises him as a student who attends her school.

He smiled and said “Nice day for a walk!”  

She snaps out of her reverie.

“Yes it is!”  She replied, smiling back.

Rain in the Desert

“What is that sound?” The librarian asked as she was checking out books.  We all looked around the room with her. Then she said with a knowing smile, “Oh, it’s raining!”  

Everyone in the small library smiled back at her.  It was raining! The kids in line to check in with the summer reading program became excited and agitated.  They asked their mothers if they could go watch the rain from the breezeway windows. One little girl started walking all the way outside before her mother called her back.  “No, sweetheart, stay in the breezeway and watch.”

Adults came in the library through the breezeway and smiled.  Their shirts were speckled with rain. Others finished checking out their library books, looked out at the pouring summer rain, and went outside to their cars with big grins on their faces.  Rain is something special in Twentynine Palms.

The average yearly rainfall is 0.51 inches and the average snowfall is 0.0 inches in Twentynine Palms (US Climate Data).  It’s exceptional when anything falls out of the sky. It actually hailed this past summer and I showed my kids just so they knew what hail looked like (small frozen pellets of ice in case you forgot).  

Kids of all ages clamour to go outside and look as soon as there is precipitation in Twentynine Palms.  Young children perform a wild version of a rain dance as they prance about their wet yards. They skip about the sidewalks and look like they are about ready to sing “Singing in the Rain” like Gene Kelly.  Teachers at all schools know little instruction will happen once moisture starts falling from the sky. There was once a mixture of snow and rain coming down and the high school students asked if they could just please, please open the class room door and look?  The door opened, a few students looked, and like magnets they were pulled outside to feel the magic of cold moisture falling from the sky onto their faces. The whole class soon poured outside. Big teenagers performing their own version of the rain dance.

Rain makes everyone giddy in the desert.  Children at home rush to ask if they can use the umbrella outside in the rain.  The parent does not know where the umbrella is but the kids pull it out from the back of the closet.  They hide under it as the rain pours down, delighting in the novelty of using the umbrella as protection against rain rather than protection against the sun.  Meanwhile the family dog bounds about in the yard and barks at the sky. He’s bewildered and wonders why his head is all wet even after he gives it a good shake.

Rain in the desert often comes in fast and strong.  The roads become small rivers once it begins to rain more than a few sprinkles.  The desert sand cannot absorb much water. That is why there are such high berms along the streets.  Rain water gets funneled along the streets where it is channeled to many of the washes throughout Twentynine Palms.  Sometimes the rain comes down too fast and the channels can’t keep up, creating massive flooding in some parts of the city.  Locals know never to drive through those fast-moving mini rivers. The floodgates on Split Rock Avenue get shut to allow the torrent that flows through there free passage through the city.

The desert is clean after it rains.  It’s as if the desert itself took a shower and scrubbed away all the dust and dirt.  It smells clean.  The creosote bushes gives us their perfume like a natural aftershave.  The mountains glisten and sparkle in the distance. There is no puff of dust as you step on the desert sand.  God watered his cactus garden.

I knew I lived in the desert a while when in the early morning, getting ready for work, I became conscious of a strange sound.  I paused and listened carefully.

“What is that sound?” I mused.

It took me a moment to identify it as the sound of rain falling from the roof onto the ground.  

“Oh, it’s raining!”

A small smile appeared on my face unconsciously as I performed my own rendition of the rain dance.  

Desert Life

Life here in Twentynine Palms seems bleak to those who come here to live for the first time.  Especially to those who have spent most of their lives in places that are green with rivers and lakes.  I have lived in those places and have come to realize that with any place there are good and bad things about living there.  Having lived in Twentynine Palms for 8 years now I’ve come to accept and even enjoy the lifestyle that is Twentynine Palms.  Many people come through this city in a temporary fashion.  They will leave when the Marine Corps tells them to leave or when a job pulls them away.  But I am not military and my job isn’t going any where.   I’m in it for the long haul!  I’m doing fine in 29.