Who is Scritch-Scratching on the Tent? By Jo Russell

Bob’s beautiful new wife, Glenda, loved the outdoors. While dating, they hiked and biked together, enjoyed long walks holding hands, and now that they had their place together, they had added backyard barbeques to their outdoor activities.

Bob and his parents, siblings, and his cousins all liked roughing it. “Do it in a tent” was the family slogan. Bob guessed he might even have been conceived in a nylon-sided home!  Even though Glenda was raised in a city, he was sure she would love it too. This was the moment!

“Let’s go camping this weekend. The weather is beautiful and sunny. We can even try out the Dutch oven!”

“Oh, Honey, I’d love it! Did you rent a motor home for us?”

“No, Sweetie, but I borrowed Dad’s little tent camper. It’s small and cozy, just right for cuddling!”

She agreed, not grasping entirely what it means to “rough it.” They packed the small sedan, hooked on the little trailer and drove until nearly dark. Everything was romantic as they prepared the evening meal on a camp stove as the setting sun lit their excited faces.

The trouble started when it came time for bed. They lay comfortably inside the camper that was only big enough for the two of them. Glenda chose the place closest to the door. “I love the smell of the land and the clean air,” Bob murmured as he drifted off with lovely Glenda in his arms, but she couldn’t sleep. Glenda listened fearfully to the night noises that were a lullaby to Bob.

Suddenly–Scritch-scratch! Scritch-scratch!

“Bob, wake up! Something is scratching on our tent! What can it be?”

Bob decided to omit mentioning any of the large animals who made their home in the area, such as muscled mountain lions or nasty-tempered javelina, so he just said, “Probably something small like a raccoon.”

“I’m scared. Could you see what it is?”

So Bob climbed over Glenda, her body stiff with fear and gazed around in the silver moonlight. “It’s nothing, Glenda. Let’s go back to sleep. It’s a beautiful night!”

Scritch-scratch! Scritch-scratch! Scritch-scratch! The sound persisted and Glenda interrupted Bob’s soft breathing.

“Bob, do you hear that? Something is still scratching on our tent!”

Again, he sleepily sat up, climbed over Glenda, and checked outside. Everything was in place. No animal tracks either that he could see. A gentle breeze had come up, and it was as if God’s hand was waving a welcome.

Bob had only sighed himself to sleep again when Glenda woke him with her frightened request to check again!

“This is the last time I check! Nothing is out there! No tracks or anything! Go to sleep, Sweetheart. I’ll hold you. We’re safe here.”

The sun kissed Bob awake and he groggily climbed over sleeping Glenda to stretch and start the hot water for morning cocoa.

It was then Bob himself heard the scritch-scratch! He looked all around and finally found itthe nylon ties for the tent windows! With the gentle breeze, the ties had scraped the tent walls all night.

All that fear was for nothing! When Glenda got up, they laughed together about it.

How often do we fear that something will happen, and, in truth, it never does?

Consider this advice written several thousand years ago: “If you make the Most High your dwelling—even the Lord, who is my refuge—then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.” [Psalm 91:9-10 NIV]

Worry, anxiety, and fear can be rolled up into a common idea: a waste of time.

God has our life and our fears handled if we let him.

And isn’t that much better than losing a night’s sleep over the scratch-scratching on the tent?

[Jo Russell is a Christian speaker, author of articles, anthology contributions, and award-winning Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women. available from Amazon.com, her speaking engagements and website, www.button-to-god.com. Enjoy chuckles and speeches, tips and excerpts in website options and weekly blog.]


Is There Any Place Like Grandma’s? By Jo Russell

“Gramma!” the toddler cried with glee and took unsteady steps into the everlasting arms of the smiling lady who loved him and saw Robert often.

Later, as the Robert began the uncertainties of the unknown as he entered school, his mother, Jolene, walked him there and stopped – right at Grandma’s house.

Robert followed the scent to her kitchen – to find it full of cinnamon rolls and encouragement.

Somehow, Grandma made everything look as if it were possible. On the way home, he stopped to show her his schoolwork and pictures.

“I’m so proud of you! Look at your neat handwriting! Look at this math! You are so smart!” Her encouragement helped him to grow strong and confident.

And that helped him through difficult times for a long time. But by the time he became a teen, his family had moved far from Grandma. Where was his refuge now? Fifteen for him was a tough age, full of uncertainty and unfolding wings for flight. At least, Grandma had a summer home in their community and lived there six months of the year. But right in the middle of his current crisis, she was gone for another five months.

Did it matter that his mom told him often, “Robert, you’re our free bonus gift! I love you so much!” Somehow, it didn’t mean as much as when the words came from Grandma.

Robert had his doubts. But he knew Grandma loved him from the moment he was born. He needed a refuge. He needed to be at a place where he knew he was valued. So Robert announced he was running away to Grandma’s summer home for Christmas break. It was the coldest month of the year and the heat was off. But Robert determined that with electricity, phone and water, it wouldn’t be bad. With Grandma’s stash of canned goods, he had enough food for months.

Packing up his largest pack, outdoor magazines, and a compacted case of dehydrated food, Robert headed out, not looking back. It was a short hike to Grandma’s, and he wore new boots he had worked for and had bought himself.

Robert didn’t answer the phone when he saw his home phone number on caller ID. His mother, Jolene, then showed up at the door. The first day she checked on him, she found Robert comfortable on the sofa bed in the living room. It was all of 50 degrees inside as the heater and gas were off. Robert was stretched out on it wearing sweaters, a jacket, plus two pairs of thick wool socks. Rob was reading his outdoor magazines: each grouped by title. His large pack was leaning against the bed. He showed no signs of moving back home.

“Hi, Robert!” Jolene greeted her son cheerfully.

“Hi,” he said glumly, not looking up from his magazine.

His conversation consisted of one-syllable answers, “I guess” and “Who cares?”

“Are you ready to come home? Your brother and I miss you!”


You can guess he wasn’t ready.

Each day Jolene stopped by to check on him. Then one day, Jolene came over and mentioned, “Grandma wants to talk with you. You know the phone is working.”

She dialed the number and handed him the phone. Robert listened to Grandma and her sage advice, though this end of the conversation sounded like “I guess,” grunts, and “Okay.” After he hung up, Robert packed up his things to come home, ready to rejoin his family. Grandma’s words were magic. It was as if they encircled him again with the scent of cinnamon rolls, encouragement and hugs. And he could go on.

Robert came home a man with a purpose, with honor and self-respect. He went on that year to win a school-wide short story writing contest. His essay on honoring parents was published in the newspaper. He earned a letter in track and won “Who’s Who in American High Schools.”

As we move on the journey of our lives, there could never be a more steadfast refuge than God.

He is as loving and encouraging as Grandma, but his care spans all the days we have.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging…The Lord Almighty is with us’ the God of Jacob is our fortress.” [Psalm 46:1-3; 7] NIV

There is always a refuge for us in God. The Almighty God will be there for us with a safe place. It’s even better than Grandma’s!

[Jo Russell is a Christian speaker, author of articles, anthology contributions, and award-winning Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women. available from Amazon.com, her speaking engagements and website, www.button-to-god.com. Enjoy chuckles and speeches, tips and excerpts in website options and weekly blog.]







Rain? Why, its Water and Kindness from the Sky! By Jo Russell

As desert dwellers thousands of miles from home, Janelle and her boys didn’t know what to do about rain. No raincoats ever hung in their closets. An umbrella was something one might use in a school play. Windshield wipers in southern Arizona died of sunstroke, not overuse. Until this rainy afternoon, the family’s desert tents and gear had not had a moisture test.

In the last four days as Janelle drove east across Canada, rain had enveloped the compact station wagon with the four of them inside–the five-year-old twins, her teen nephew, Chris, and herself. Even when she turned the wheel into a spacious wooded campsite, the three boys glumly glanced at everything misty with rain.

“Cheer up, Boys! This rain can’t last too much longer!” Janelle quipped, remembering summer monsoon rains in the southwest that lasted about an hour, and then shut off like a faucet. After a monsoon, the Arizona ground would soon be as dry as crackers.

To make shade and a rain cover, most campers string a waterproof tarp between trees. Not Janelle. She still clung to the monsoon theory. Though they were being assaulted by rain, Chris and Janelle spread out the large dining canopy over the pine needles under some evergreens.

Soon the tarp was collecting puddles while the lady of the camp coaxed a hot dinner from the sputtering camp stove.

With the crunch, crunch of footsteps in the gravel, she turned toward the joyful Canadian voice, “So you’re all the way from Arizona, aye?” The senior’s raincoat was nearly dry. Janelle nodded. “Haven’t seen another car around here from Arizona for a month or more.”

Janelle noticed his puzzled look when he spied the three damp boys huddled on the tarp. The rain dripped over them and their dinner.

“Doesn’t rain much in Arizona, I hear.”

“Nope,” Janelle told him. “We’ve never seen it rain this much before ever!”

The smiling senior offered, “If it stops raining, I’ll come over and start a fire for you.” He jaunted back to his dry, warm travel trailer in which he and his wife were able to watch the camping drama. It was better than TV!

Chris and Janelle then set up the two-person tent camper for him and one twin. That’s when the zipper died on the tent trailer. She threw a tarp over the tent door. Chris and one twin started a board game inside, but drops of water squeezed through the keyhole and wet the board. An explosion of cards blasted out of the tent.

Chris announced, “That’s it! I’m finding a dry place!” Janelle thought how desperate Chris had to be as he sprinted to an outhouse nearby. She remembered that pit toilets were at the top of his hate list. Soon his face was pressed against the screen as he sucked great gulps of clean air and the smell of freshly washed evergreens. He was dry, but not a happy camper.

The Canadian campmate returned in his black rain gear carrying a hot pot of tea. “It’s not dry enough to make a fire, so I brought you something to warm you up,” he said. His smile was cheerful. The ceramic pot of tea he held up belonged in a tidy kitchen, not so far from town. The shiny black surface was decorated with delicate flowers and gold trim. Janelle thanked him and headed for the privy door.

“Hey, Chris!” she coaxed, standing at the privy door. “Open up!” Chris squeaked open the door wide enough to see the elegant pot of hot tea. Soon the four of them sat in the car, enjoying the warm drink. Their sense of humor returned as they all were filled with thankfulness.

Out of the thousands of miles they traveled, they would remember that couple’s act of kindness to strangers as an example of Jesus’ command to go and do likewise for our neighbor.

When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, he illustrated an example of showing kindness to all—including to less desirable people. He himself took down the walls between people based on race, social status, economic condition, health or position.

The Samaritans, generations before, came about when Jews intermarried with their women. To Jesus’ audience, Samaritans were half-breeds and not worthy of any attention. Yet Jesus used one in his parable as a hero who saved the traveler from death.

When Jesus healed a group of ten lepers, who was the only one who came back to thank him and praise God? Only a Samaritan, a foreigner. [Luke 17:11-19]

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”[Jesus asked]

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” [Luke 10:36-37]

The Canadian who showed kindness could easily have sized up this woman with a car full of kids as poor – Who else would sleep in a tent? – and dumb – Who else would lay a tarp on the ground, instead of tying it up in the trees as a shelter from the rain? as well as naive – Of course it rains in the north. How else do the thick forests grow so green?

But instead, he showed kindness to strangers to foreign visitors—leaving them with a warm memory for a lifetime.

Who is your neighbor?

[Jo Russell is a Christian speaker, author of articles, anthology contributions, and award-winning Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women. available from Amazon.com, her speaking engagements and website, www.button-to-god.com. Enjoy chuckles and speeches, tips and excerpts in website options and weekly blog.]




Where’s the Alarm Clock When I Need It? By Jo Russell

Where’s the Alarm Clock When I Need It?

As slanting sunlight shimmered through the window, Joanna woke with a start.  After her shift on her seasonal summer job in Alaska, she had dropped off to sleep in her clothes.

Now hours later, she glanced at the clock on her phone. “I have to be at work at 10:00! It’s 9:45! I’ll be late!”

She punched in her work number and started explaining before shift manager Leann could say a word. “Sorry!” Joanna began as she pulled on her work uniform, “I forgot to set up the alarm on my phone. It will take me about an hour to get there. I’ll be at work as soon as I can!”

“Don’t come in!” Leann advised.

“What?” Joanna wondered – Had she lost her job?

“Don’t come in now. It’s not time for you to come to work.”

“But it’s nearly ten o clock!”

“It’s ten. But we’re closing here, “Leann told her. “It’s 10:00 o clock at night, not in the morning! Have a good sleep! We’ll see you tomorrow!”

People knew what they were talking about when they called Alaska “The Land of the Midnight Sun.” For at the peak of summer in the north, to Joanna, ten in the morning and ten at night seem to look just about the same.

Time. Work and responsibilities shape us to think of time in a box: time to get up, time to get to work, time to make meals for the family, time to pay the bills, time to exercise, time to go to classes, time to study, a time to spend with someone important to you. All of life seems to be in compartments, seasons, and shifts of time.

But with God, it is not so. Expecting God to answer a prayer is appropriate. But God does not work around seasons, shifts, and years. His time line is unique. His prayer answers always come, but often not when or how we expect them.  His love is forever. His patience spans decades, lifetimes, and generations. God gives much time to those who do not know him or his son, Jesus.

In the timelines of our busy lives, are we putting God into a box? He won’t fit.

“With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” [2 Peter 3:8 NIV]

Busyness is not a reason to set God aside. For time with Him builds the most important relationship of all: one that ends in a bridge to eternity.

And it doesn’t matter to Him if it’s ten in the morning or ten at night. You will never be late.


[Jo Russell is a Christian speaker, author of articles, anthology contributions, and award-winning Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women. available from Amazon.com, her speaking engagements and website, www.button-to-god.com. Enjoy chuckles and speeches, tips and excerpts in website options and weekly blog.]