Thursday, November 13, 2008

Stray Cat Syndrome

My reflections from the cottage in October, closing up for winter.

Gorgeous reds and yellows greet me mile after mile along the lakeshore and into the deepest woods. Eight deer graze outside my window. To protect my hostas, I step onto the deck and clap loudly, authoritatively. They pause and look up as if to say, “Thanks for the standing ovation!” and continue nibbling.

In addition to soaking up God’s fall genius at every turn, I love writing here because it somehow downsizes the demands of deadlines. There is, however, one problem: my internet service has been prematurely disconnected. My request for a winter service stoppage to begin on November 1 started on October 1. My provider’s 24-7 service plan sent my pleas for help across the world where English is not the primary language, and I’ve gotten nowhere. Panic, frustration, and embarrassment drove me to be proactive on my own behalf. In fact, it changed me from a content, happy person into a kind of aggressive, obstreperous, discouraged one. I looked the same, so it was deceiving to others, but I felt the symptoms growing with each passing day.

It’s not that I’m addicted to the computer; it’s just that my computer is my lifeline when I telecommute. I cannot send documents without it from the north woods. Other cottagers are not usually there this late in the season, and I hadn’t been sure if there was anyone around to help me. But I arrived back at the cottage one night and noticed lights on down the line, so I called Nini, whom I barely know. She was kind enough to let me in and share a cup of tea, some good conversation, and her computer. Lovely. I slept well that night; of course I didn’t know then that I would be three out of four days without my lifeline.

Another cottager, Deb, was enjoying her quiet, blissful fall up North, and my need for an internet connection led me to her as well. Deb plays piano and leads music at Michigan retreats for me, but we didn’t know each other that well. That first day when I asked if I could use her cottage WiFi, she replied, “Fine, come on in!” We even went out to lunch afterwards. I offered to drive, to which Deb relied, “Phyllis, I’ve never driven with you before!” You don’t know someone until you’ve let them behind the wheel, come to think of it. She took me to her favorite haunt for great soup and a visit that set us on the road to stronger friendship – conversation over soup does that (See the recipe for Peanut Soup that’s to die for in the December e-newsletter). When we came back, I used her computer again, for just a bit.

So far so good. Deb said to “come by anytime” for my computer fix. I, by nature, do not like to drop in on people, but I had become the stray cat. Necessity drove me to her door, not one but three more times. Once, she left me in her cottage while she ran errands. Another time she had the table set for dinner guests – talk about barging in! But my producer was waiting for an interview, and Deb’s wireless connection was the only way to get it to her.

This stray cat story does not mention two computer visits to the local pastor and two more to the local library, which is in the firehouse and rarely open. There was that other time I got online at a friend’s while I waited for a car tune up and then again at the actual car repair shop where they had a computer!

By this time, I needed a computer-dependence support group. But finally the day to reconnect my cottage to the world arrived. I was told to expect a tech rep some time between 8 and 10 a.m. I had an important piece that needed to be emailed back to my producer by 10:15 a.m. at the latest, so I was nervous. At 10:00, the tech guy was still a no show, and I had to make the dreaded tech call. While I was on hold for them to track down my tardy support rep, I heard an ad for a character dubbed “America’s Favorite Serial Killer” four times. It’s some kind of TV show, lauded by reviewers. I did not know we had a favorite serial killer; I also didn’t appreciate that concept floating in my head while solo in the northern woods.

The tech guy couldn’t be found, and they were so sorry. So off I trekked to Deb’s, the same day as her dinner party, though fortunately before any guests arrived. I sat there, my laptop on her placemat, fingers flying to be out as fast as I could. On her way out the door for a last minute errand, she gave me a big hug and said, “Phyllis, it’s great to see you. I have to run, but have a great winter. See you next summer!” What great boundaries, I thought. She’s subtly letting me know that enough is enough, without saying, “Please be gone when I get back!”

I had not planned to spend time with Deb, Nini, or the Pastor this fall, and they certainly had not planned for me to park at their computers. I felt like a stray cat roaming from one “feed” to another. It was embarrassing, humbling, and stressful. It also threw me onto the mercy and grace of others. They modeled it beautifully. I pray to be sensitive to recognize stray cats like me when they come my way. Those who were kind to me had no idea how difficult it was for me to ask. In the end, even though I don’t want to have to do that again, I felt taken in, cared for, and respected.

Looking back, it seems that since we’re created in the image of our Creator God, this is part of who He is. He is all things. He takes me in, cares for me every day in every way, whether I know it or not. He loves doing that and loves my “Thank you so MUCH!” response. I don’t have to question whether He’ll feed me or connect me with the power I need to get through the day. His connection with me is secure, unbreakable, and without end because of the faith He’s given me in His Son, Jesus Christ. There are no stray cats in Christ’s view. His WiFi is “Walk in Faith issued!” Knock on His door; it’s always open!

Always be kind one to another… 1 Th 5:15

Monday, November 3, 2008

Hope for Grieving Children: Africa

There’s a remarkable outreach to orphans and street kids in Zambia, led by Dick Matteson, a clinical psychologist and educator and also an ordained Methodist minister. My friend Tony Stephens of Chicago introduced me to Dick’s work and I want you to know about this, too. They feed one meal of porridge to more than 350 orphans a day, ages 5-19. Educational and recreational programming and individual counseling are also provided.

Dick partners with local pastors and volunteers to train staff in the delicate process of showing compassion to children who have lost everything, including their parents. Their loss is overwhelming, yet they respond in amazing ways to the opportunities afforded them. Teachers note how, in spite of their hunger, the children are enthused to be in school! Hope for Grieving Children is a non-governmental organization, funded solely on donations at this point, bringing hope to the hopeless through their devotion to the mandate of Christ to “do unto the least of these as you would do unto me.” For further information go to .