Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Discipline and Faithfulness

I've fallen off the wagon with my exercise reforms. I could blame it on my schedule, but I won't. I could blame it on a lot of things, but basically, I won't. I decided that I will take the blame for my lapse, so no reward for me. This month's reward that I'm forfeiting is using a 25 dollar off coupon at a favorite clothing store, to buy denim capri's in a smaller size. The good news is, I am still able to wear that size despite my 2 week long break from working out at the gym. Right now, I'm wearing a pair of white capri's that have been tight for 4 summers, and today, they are baggy.

I'm on an impossible sleep rhythm schedule, and I'm hoping that I can break it this week. When I go to work, I'm tired so I drink coffee. Which keeps me up after I go home around 11:30 or midnight. Which makes me sleep in past my alarm to get up and go to cardio class. And on and on it goes. I asked for additional time off this week, so I am going to try to re-work my routine. The plan is to drink coffee a few hours before work instead of when I get there. Let myself be tired on the way home and go to bed right away instead of blogging or reading or doing a little housework. And wake up when the alarm goes off and go to the work out session. No naps!

Self discipline has always been a struggle for me. As a kid, Mom threw me out of the house all the time to make me play and exercise. Taking a walk, riding my bike or going to the pool was never my first choice, but when I was 16, a friend invited me to go running with her. She held the school cross country record and she was going to train all summer to break it again. We ran every morning except Sundays. Mom never had to push me outside again. Ever.

In the fall, I joined volleyball and the first thing our coach did was make us run up and down stairs 15 times. I barely broke a sweat, during the run and afterwards I was standing tall while everyone else around me was clearly suffering. My coach told me "Silva, you're in the wrong sport". She was right. My volleyball coach was also the women's track coach in the spring and my PE coach ever since 7th grade; she always thought that I should have run long distance. I didn't want to compete as an individual, it intimidated me and so, I didn't go into cross country with my friend although I liked to run. Did I choose volleyball because I was a coward or because I liked it? Now that I'm middle-aged, I look back on it and realize that I wasted an opportunity to have a real kickass year. My friend, on the other hand, broke her own record.

Often, not just in sports, I stuck to what was safe and familiar instead of pushing myself to find out what I was capable of within that which was my real ability. I ran for exercise while in college, especially summers. If I was capable of self discipline then, I surely can now.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Anything Worthy of Praise

"Finally brethren...if there be anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things."

At work, a new employee who loves to be sarcastic, doubts anything good that I mention about his performance. He mentions that his generation (twenty-somethings) have been lavishly praised throughout their lives because of parents and teachers who worry about damaging their self-esteem. He tells me that he's not typical of his generation. My dear co-worker has an extremely dry wit that he puts into practice by asking me to critique his job on cleaning. I catch on only half way through my positive feedback, because he is finding it hilarious. I realize that he is testing me to see if I really mean what I say, or if I am manipulative. I appreciate this.

On my way to work, I heard over the radio that studies have shown that children learn better when praise is scarce, and that too much praise by teachers and parents could actually hold them back. There is no mention of how that affects the workplace. Or family life. Or friendships. Or marriages. And in our celebrity and television driven culture. Or spiritually, in our relationship to God.

When we are trained to relate to that which only makes us feel good about ourselves, it leaves us in Proverbs "fool" catagory. And it waters down the meaning of anything truly worthy of praise.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Mozart and the Whale

It's my day off and in keeping with that, I celebrated with watching a movie from Netflix that has been waiting patiently a week for me to watch it. My choice for today was "Mozart and the Whale" a romance based on a true story of a couple who both have Asperger's Syndrom. If you haven't read recent Newsweek or Time articles, Asperger's is a form of autism that some people have at various levels of ability and of functioning, sometimes without them or their families knowing it. Asperger's Syndrom can often be accompanied by bi-polar tendencies or by obsessive compulsive disorders. It is often referred to as the "Nerd Disease". I've been interested in Asperger's because I've often suspected that I have it. But I've pretty much let go of that idea in favor of being just the usual introvert with average (darn!) intelligence.

I once knew a guy with Asperger's --he came from my home town and we went to the same high school until his family moved during his senior year to Idaho. His name was Gregg. When we were college freshmen we recognized each other in the book store during the first week of classes. He identified me briefly as John Silva's sister; my brother played high school football with him. It was surprise to see him at this state run college--he was capable of winning scholarships to much more prestigious universities. Gregg responded with the fact that it was familiar to him and close to home but not too close.

I remembered Gregg as the guy I beat once in a debate in our junior year speech class, even though he had a better argument, apparently I could summon up the passion that got me the votes to just squeak by to victory. He was an intimidating adversary. We hung out together for awhile those first lonely college freshman weeks because we happened to know each other and it was nice to be with someone familiar and safe in a strange environment. After a football game or dinner at the dining hall, my new dorm mates often asked me who he was. He was just a friend.

Gregg and I eventually drifted away as we eased into feeling comfortable where we were and our schedules got busy. And we had vastly different interests--I liked music, for one and he could hardly justify taking time off from studying to attend concerts on campus. At the beginning of every school year, I'd call him to see how he was doing, a gesture he expressed appreciation for because I knew that he hated those transition times between leaving home and starting all over again in the fall with a new routine. As usual, we would launch into spiritual conversations. He loved to read the Bible and after my encouragement, he found a men's study that he enjoyed participating in.

I knew that Gregg had problems, most of the time they were all very subtle until I once served him and his mom at the A&W I worked at on weekends during high school. Gregg had lowered his head and stared at the table top the whole time. He also stared at his desk top during school with his face very level and close to the surface--lifting it up only to see what was on the chalk board. I never found it peculiar until he did the same thing in the context of the A&W. His mom just chatted away as though nothing was the matter. I then began to see that his quirk was not under his control.

He rarely smiled and usually had a flat tone in his voice, a point that used to my advantage during my high school debate against him as well as the fact that Gregg had a hard time with eye contact. There were also certain things that really bothered him immensely and would unexpectedly set him off. He warned me of them, and I really didn't pay attention to what they were because I didn't take it seriously. He sometimes would steer us away from a situation that threatened him. We often sat at the back of the room during lectures, football games and concerts. Gregg also said what he thought bluntly and took things literally. It was shocking at times, but all typical symptoms of Asperger's. I enjoyed his openness and honesty. He was refreshing and easy to get to know.

Towards the end of my senior year right before graduation, I ate dinner at the dining hall across campus and happened to sit next to the president of the electrical engineering student club. I asked her if she knew Gregg and she seemed really disgusted at the name. She tersely described years of trying to get him out of his dorm room and several times, how a multitude of the engineers would be knocking on his door and they knew he was in there but he wouldn't open the door. They did this all in the name of his own good because they worried about his hermit-like lifestyle. She predicted that all his academic achievement would be flushed down the toilet because he didn't know how to socially interact. Wow, I thought. How socially astute of her. Assembling a gang like villagers at Frankenstein's castle doors always works at reforming shy geniuses.

Nonetheless, I was shocked. Gregg was the Associated Student Body president in junior high school, ran for and won various positions in our student government in high school, gave an impassioned Civil Rights speech (after I beat him in that unforgettable debate) and never held back an opinion that he felt needed to be expressed, even if it meant harm to himself. I was convinced of his courage ever since seventh grade. Although he didn't have many friends in college, I sometimes saw him sitting next to the giant football players in the campus dining halls, obviously relaxed as he joked and talked about his favorite game with them. In high school, we all liked him immensely.

What happened?

I later called Gregg, congratulated him on his upcoming graduation (summa cum laude I found out later) and he told me about his job in Idaho that he had lined up. He was realistic with the fact although he understood his field to the best of his ability, he worried about his lack of creativity. I told him that he would do fine. He can hire creativity. He laughed. He supposed that could happen. I told him that I met a fellow student and shared her name. I wanted to know his side of the story that she told me.

What it added up to was a total lack of understanding on both parts. The melt downs he warned me about and that I never saw happen since our acquaintence in seventh grade started to manifest towards the end of his college senior year, but especially with the electrical engineer club's pressure to change him. He complained that people were always trying to change him. I asked if he felt that way with me. He said that if he did, he would never have talked with me. He thanked me for my friendship. And that was the last time we spoke. When I think back on it, it was a privilege to be his friend as well as a gift.

So "Mozart and The Whale" was mostly crap. I don't think it was directed very well. Rhada Mitchell was wonderful, especially during the dinner with the boss scene and the engagement proposal scene. Josh Hartnett was barely believable and the assorted characters in the support group needed to be explained why they were how they were, and that underneath the obvious lack of social skills were people who were capable of learning them. It was filmed in Spokane, WA--a place I am familiar with since I used to live in eastern Washington state.

A Suburban Summer Conflict

We are going to have a garage/yard sale in June. Yes, us packrats are actually going to try to get people to buy our junk. It's our first time. So, we have a lot of junk. I think we are going to be lucky to bag 20 bucks out of the whole deal. And hardly make a dent out of the clutter around the house. If it was up to me, I would rather haul it all to the nearest Goodwill. Besides, both of us sell things for a living. Why invite the whole town via newspaper announcement to our home on a day off? But the idea of getting something out of nothing is irresistible to my husband, and what better way to get to know everyone who lives around us?

If this is an easy way to be sociable then I'm all in. No making dinner, cleaning house and heck, they might even buy something. They probably think we are kind of weird already, so let's make it official. My co-workers are getting into the act, so even better.

As preparation, I'm going around the house trying to come up with a list of things that have to go. After the list is prepared, Dennis and I will have several rounds of negotiations about what will actually go into the yard sale and what will it would be worth. Already, I can tell we both have two separate motives for this sale. My motive is to get rid of stuff. His, even though he has not clearly stated it, is to make money. We both feel the other is ridiculous. The battle between the organizer/neatfreak and the supersalesman is on, after many years of building up steam.

I've already cleaned out our bedroom closet, linen closet, spare room closet so I can begin my initial advance with pricing. I anticipate his counterattack with overcharging for the 15 year old BBQ. He's also throwing in his 30 year old snow ski's as back up. Since he already knows half the neighborhood better than I do, it will be up to his charm and entrepreneurship to take me out at the front line. But he doesn't know about my flank attack with 40 percent of our books at a dime apiece. I might throw in the plywood bookshelves in for free. Knowing his expertise in strategy, I have obtained intelligence reports of a commando raid with near new pricing on his hand me down suits from an un-named relative. Since he is of average size and takes good care of his clothes, this could prove the winning move.

I've got to come up with a plan utilizing the barely used kitchen appliances. This might be a sacrifice, but all is fair in love and war. I'll keep you posted on the ongoing combat. I've engaged a relentless opposition, but surrender is not an option.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Whatever is of Good Repute

Chewing more on my memorization verse, Phil. 4:8, I realized that I had never thought very deeply about whatever is of good repute. And in this society, this is harder than it looks. Especially with tabloids, celebrity news shows, and plain old- fashioned gossip. We love to talk about others and their weaknesses to make us feel better about our own lives, or to make ourselves feel competent in comparison. A lot of the time, this is my motivation for it.

But letting my mind be absorbed about things of good repute is something unnatural. And what about participating in making someone else a people-pleaser? If we think or speak well of something or someone, isn't that making them prideful or arrogant? I think it is a good and wonderful thing to have opportunities to celebrate what God does through us. 1 Corinthians 12:25-26: "so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. "

Paul, a friend deeply loved by God

When I've been thinking of this verse, I have been thinking about Hebrews 11--the champions of faith passage. People who maintained faith in God despite circumstances. I'm such a person of circumstance--living by sight rather by believing in God's character. The practice of remembering these giants of God puts the process of what I attain through gossip in reverse. Instead of feeling good about my life, I feel inadequate.

Then another source of whatever is of good repute is to think of the people whom I've known who are examples of living for God, and through whom God has worked. "I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts." Psalm 119:63; "Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name." Malachi 3:16

Friends who honor God Michael, lives by faith

I looked up "good repute" on Bible Gateway.com and I found the following commentary on

Titus 2:7 really helpful. I hope you do, too.

John and Brea, being fruitful in many ways

Titus 2:7 In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness

Heidi, woman of integrity
Instructions for Godly Living

In the months before his execution by the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: "I fear that Christians who stand with only one leg upon earth, also stand with only one leg in heaven." His concern was for Christians who had disengaged themselves from the world, who could stand by and watch atrocities committed as if the Christian message or individual Christian responsibility had no bearing whatsoever upon earthly affairs.

The fact of the matter is that the Christian faith intends full engagement in the world. Certainly the origin of this new life is otherworldly. Certainly Christian values are not those of the world. Certainly Christian hope takes us beyond this world. But it is in this world that God has called Christians to live, and it is this world's inhabitants that Christians must reach with the gospel. Engagement of this kind requires Christian credibility and participation in the life of the world.

A friend who knows God

Credibility especially depends on living, as far as possible, in a manner that the world considers to be respectable. "Respectability" was an important concept in Paul's day. But the values connected with it have always been subject to change. Therefore, the Christian life is first and always to be a clear expression of the will of God.
The church's respectability in the world was very much in Paul's mind as he addressed the various groups in the Cretan churches. This is evident from the patterns of behavior he encourages in 2:1-10, patterns that would have pleased any upright person in that day. It is equally evident in his affirmation of the social categories by which orderly community or civil life was defined. In verses 2-10 he divides the church according to customary social categories (generations, sexes, slaves), and he employs the household-code form of teaching to emphasize that Christians must practice a renewed or reformed quality of behavior within those categories (see commentary at 1 Tim 2:1).

Roy and his family, a friend who fears God

This type of teaching encouraged participation in the social structure rather than withdrawal from it. Exemplary (Christian) behavior within the traditional relationships would help maintain or increase the church's credibility in the eyes of the world and promote the evangelistic mission. But Paul does not simply adopt secular rules of behavior. Whatever affinities this lifestyle might have with secular moral ideals, only faith in Christ can produce the Christian, reformed version (vv. 11-15). This is what Paul means by godly living; and godly living is what this passage is about.

Java doesn't gossip about me--thanks, Java!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

My Vent

Fourteen years ago, our assistant pastor dropped by for a visit one evening, and as we sipped coffee, he made a comment about objects in homes that identify the occupants as Christians. He scanned the living room of our small town house for an example and couldn't find anything like that. Not a cross, a placard, cross stitched verse or knick-knack. Maybe a few mugs, given to us as gifts, had verses on them. If there was any object, it would've been our bibles and a shelf full of books. It never occured to me back then that we might need to own crosses or statues or anything like that to make our home seem "spiritual". We had one picture, given to us as a wedding gift, but you wouldn't know what it was about just by looking at it--it sort of draws you in and holds your interest instead of making you glance away in embarrassment.

Sugar-coated Gospel, anyone?

But everytime I step into a Christian bookstore, the first thing I usually see aren't bibles or books but tons of Christian "paraphanalia". Candles, magnets, games, pens, jewelry, t-shirts, dolls, bumperstickers, bible covers, statues of angels, statues of Jesus, "gift sets" and coffee mugs of various artistic appeal from "kitsch" to something trying to resemble "class", all with "spiritual" themes. There are more of this stuff than acutual books--and most of the books are of questionable spiritual value. Who buys this junk? And why? And don't get me started on the kids' section. Sure, Veggietales are cute and instructive, but I am sick of how Bob and Larry are merchandised to death. Enough already! Someone needs to take a lesson from Bill Watterson, creator of the "Calvin and Hobbes" comic. Less is more.

A more relevant message: "God wants you to stop gambling!"

One of my relatives asked me if I collected crosses. We were in an offbeat funky interior decorating store that specialized in high end Spanish inspired design--not a Christian bookstore. There was a box of rustic silver crosses, all uniquely and beautifully hand made. I didn't explain to her how I really felt about turning an instrument of death into an ornament, whether it was around my neck or on my wall. It seemed to water down the meaning to me. If someone had to check my jewelry or my decor or my car's bumper for evidence of my walk with Christ, instead of my character or my life, then that's pretty pathetic. It's nice to have a few things that have special meaning (I really like our mugs and a few small ornaments my sister gave me) but when some people go overboard, I always wonder what they are trying to prove.

Noah's Ark gummy candy

And here's the irony: Jesus taught that life does not consist of "stuff" but God--even if the stuff has a verse engraved on it. And would that message be obvious if He stepped into any Christian store? Into our homes? How about our lives? "For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also."

Worship as a catch phrase

Friday, May 18, 2007

What Happened?

It's been a struggle for about a week, emotionally. I was surprised, blind-sided and amazed with how deeply and intensely I was missing Mom. I haven't been this way for years, what happened?

Thinking about it, I've come up with a few revelations.

First of all, there's nothing wrong with me. Sometimes these things just occur, sneaking up on us without warning. I'm human, and actually, I'm glad I can feel.

I've been writing more, and looking back on what I've worked on, I've brought up a lot of old memories. It seems like I've been living in the past mentally for a few months now. Even Bob Dylan brings up long forgotten experiences--a voice deeply linked to the 60's and 70's, the time of my childhood.

I've gone through a year of losses, and it kind of accumulates, I think, psychologically where I needed some kind of emotional release. Den and I finally put away the last few items around the backyard that linked us to Buttercup. And I can barely go to work without thinking about Daniel, especially as I am closing all the time--that was Daniel's old shift.

Finally, I'm a little isolated. My friends work the hours that I'm not and vice versa. I'd like to connect with the ladies at the cardio classes, but I don't want to seem too needy, know what I mean? My family is far, far away in the land of the West and Pacific Northwest. And busy. Thinking about it, I don't call as much as I should, either.

So what now?

Get agressive in breaking out of my bubble. Call friends...call family... seek out fun things to do with them...visit...fellowship...nothing's going to fall into my lap. ESL will start up again and Den and I are ready to get involved with International students at our church again, as well. There is also a 13 week course starting up at our church about biblical counseling that sounds interesting.

Go forward with plans to adopt, get a new puppy, travel, work projects--think of the future for a change. I've been letting other things or people set my schedule, instead of me taking control of it. What do I want? Do I really trust God? What stops me from walking in faith?

Writing is good, and I don't want to give it up. But I've got to broaden my subject matter a bit. And go deeper with the new ideas. Dennis wants me to take writing classes. Sounds good.

Well, if I didn't have this emotional crisis, I wouldn't have known what I know now. It was a wake up signal, to start living. What got me through was your prayers and God reminding me of good memories of Mom. Things that made me laugh out loud in the middle of my tears. She was a headstrong, sometimes unapologetically brassy and sometimes very sensitive woman. She deserves to be remembered, missed and spoken of. And I will. Only with more balance.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Today is Mom's birthday. She died due to an infection December 3, 1999. This morning, as part of my quiet time, I read Mom's daily missal. She was a Catholic, and her missal is a devotional that she had all her life since 1937. After she died, Dad gave it to me. I saw that she had bookmarks of novenas and pictures of the Holy Family, as well as a card from her father's death in 1954. I was surprised to see she also included a letter I wrote to her in 1982. I included a Catholic prayer about not loving God just to be saved, but for who He is. I also asked her for forgiveness for something I can't remember.

When I was engaged, Mom asked me to try on her wedding dress, and it fit perfectly. I remember standing on a chair to view myself in the dining room mirror, and I felt wonderful. My three year old and two year old nieces were in the room with their eyes open wide in wonder, dancing around me in delight. It was honor to wear it on my wedding day.
I hoped she felt honored.

"Hurry up, Honey! Time to get married!"
"Hey slow down! Take your time!"

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Where It Hurts, Part Two

I only have ten minutes. But I haven't been myself for some reason--overly sensitive and crying nonstop for hours...really, not the usual Althea. So, I'll be taking a break from blogging for a few days. Maybe a while longer. God speed. Pray for me.

If There Is Any Excellence

There is a lot of excellence to write about. I could write about Cynthia Heald's "Becoming A Woman of Excellence" study, and how much I learned from it and how much I fail at it, but still recommend it. But this morning, I just want to say that when I think of excellence, I think of my husband. Even though he is putting long hours in at work, he doesn't let go of other priorities, like his walk with God and relationships. He visits me at work, prays for me and keeps me accountable. And does pretty much everything in his power to let me know he loves me by word and by deed. When he calls me at work, the college girls I work with giggle because he asks "Is Althea, my beautiful wife there?" They think it's great. I do, too.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Whatever is Right

"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things."

I've been thinking about Paul's encouragement in Philippians 4:8 for a few months. I memorized the verse and try to apply it to my life. A simple and beautiful verse has proven to be a difficult one as well. It takes a lot more energy to train my mind to go to good and edifying places than the usual direction. And then stay there awhile instead of taking a brief visit and splitting off to head towards destinations my human nature commonly takes it.

There is a YouTube cartoonist who has a running narrative while he draws the cartoon. There is one on depression that I only got through half way--sometimes on YouTube, the video has difficulty loading, especially if it is popular--but he describes trying to get ideas from various people about how to deal with depression. A co-worker's advice entails thinking about positive things, like puppies and kittens. For several days, she sends him emails with attachments of flowers and pretty crap to help him get over his depressing thoughts. I don't know the outcome, but from the tone of the cartoon, he is more annoyed than helped.

There is a lot to be said about the "garbage in, garbage out" approach. The co-worker has a valid point, but I think an incomplete one. Although I benefit from being choosy in the media, books and websites that I dwell on, my mind does an excellent job of creating its own sinful thoughts without any help from the outside. And some things need to be seen and heard that aren't neccessarily pretty or cute, that would make me aware that this world has a lot of bad things happening that I need to pray about and show compassion for or get angry about. Puppies and kittens do not point my mind towards whatever is right.

So, the thinking about Philippians 4:8 led me to Galatians 5:16-26 eventually. I can't do Phil 4:8 on my own strength. I need Someone more.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Whatever is True

One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee's house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. Luke 7, The Message

Whatever is Honorable

I really believe in trans generational relationships, where my friends are not all the same age as me. I learn a lot from women older than me and a lot from women younger than me. But with women senior to me in age and life experience, I want to honor for their endurance and wisdom. It is a priviledge to know them.

The next part of the blog are lyrics by a song about a younger woman humbled by an older woman facing the dying process. The younger woman finds that she is inadequate to comfort the older woman in her suffering, except what they both know from Scripture. A wonderful story. It is rare, in secular music or Christian music, to have songs that deal with death and aging.

What Do I Know, by Sara Groves

I have a friend who just turned eighty-eight and she just shared with me that she's afraid of dying. I sit here years from her experience and try to bring her comfort. I try to bring her comfort, But what do I know? What do I know?

She grew up singing about the glory land, and she would testify how Jesus changed her life. It was easy to have faith when she was thirty-four, but now her friends are dying, and death is at her door. Oh, and what do I know? Really, what do I know?

I don't know that there are harps in heaven, Or the process for earning your wings. I don't know of bright lights at the ends of tunnels, Or any of those things.

She lost her husband after sixty years, and as he slipped away she still had things to say. Death can be so inconvenient. You try to live and love. It comes and interrupts. And what do I know? What do I know?

But I know to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord, and from what I know of him, that must be pretty good. Oh, I know to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord, and from what I know of him, that must be very good.

Whatever is Pure

The Imitation of Christ
Thomas `a Kempis

The First Chapter

THE kingdom of God is within you," says the Lord.[8]

Turn, then, to God with all your heart. Forsake this wretched world and your soul shall find rest. Learn to despise external things, to devote yourself to those that are within, and you will see the kingdom of God come unto you, that kingdom which is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, gifts not given to the impious.

Christ will come to you offering His consolation, if you prepare a fit dwelling for Him in your heart, whose beauty and glory, wherein He takes delight, are all from within. His visits with the inward man are frequent, His communion sweet and full of consolation, His peace great, and His intimacy wonderful indeed.

Therefore, faithful soul, prepare your heart for this Bridegroom that He may come and dwell within you; He Himself says: "If any one love Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and will make Our abode with him."[9]

Give place, then, to Christ, but deny entrance to all others, for when you have Christ you are rich and He is sufficient for you. He will provide for you. He will supply your every want, so that you need not trust in frail, changeable men. Christ remains forever, standing firmly with us to the end.

Do not place much confidence in weak and mortal man, helpful and friendly though he be; and do not grieve too much if he sometimes opposes and contradicts you. Those who are with us today may be against us tomorrow, and vice versa, for men change with the wind. Place all your trust in God; let Him be your fear and your love. He will answer for you; He will do what is best for you.

You have here no lasting home. You are a stranger and a pilgrim wherever you may be, and you shall have no rest until you are wholly united with Christ.

Why do you look about here when this is not the place of your repose? Dwell rather upon heaven and give but a passing glance to all earthly things. They all pass away, and you together with them. Take care, then, that you do not cling to them lest you be entrapped and perish. Fix your mind on the Most High, and pray unceasingly to Christ.

If you do not know how to meditate on heavenly things, direct your thoughts to Christ's passion and willingly behold His sacred wounds. If you turn devoutly to the wounds and precious stigmata of Christ, you will find great comfort in suffering, you will mind but little the scorn of men, and you will easily bear their slanderous talk.

When Christ was in the world, He was despised by men; in the hour of need He was forsaken by acquaintances and left by friends to the depths of scorn. He was willing to suffer and to be despised; do you dare to complain of anything? He had enemies and defamers; do you want everyone to be your friend, your benefactor? How can your patience be rewarded if no adversity test it? How can you be a friend of Christ if you are not willing to suffer any hardship?

Suffer with Christ and for Christ if you wish to reign with Him.

Had you but once entered into perfect communion with Jesus or tasted a little of His ardent love, you would care nothing at all for your own comfort or discomfort but would rejoice in the reproach you suffer; for love of Him makes a man despise himself.

A man who is a lover of Jesus and of truth, a truly interior man who is free from uncontrolled affections, can turn to God at will and rise above himself to enjoy spiritual peace.
He who tastes life as it really is, not as men say or think it is, is indeed wise with the wisdom of God rather than of men.

He who learns to live the interior life and to take little account of outward things, does not seek special places or times to perform devout exercises. A spiritual man quickly recollects himself because he has never wasted his attention upon externals. No outside work, no business that cannot wait stands in his way. He adjusts himself to things as they happen. He whose disposition is well ordered cares nothing about the strange, perverse behavior of others, for a man is upset and distracted only in proportion as he engrosses himself in externals.

If all were well with you, therefore, and if you were purified from all sin, everything would tend to your good and be to your profit. But because you are as yet neither entirely dead to self nor free from all earthly affection, there is much that often displeases and disturbs you. Nothing so mars and defiles the heart of man as impure attachment to created things. But if you refuse external consolation, you will be able to contemplate heavenly things and often to experience interior joy.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Whatever is Lovely

My parents encouraged me to pursue art--to be educated about it and enjoy it, whether I produced it or someone else did. They played symphonies on the record player on Saturday nights after dinner, bought imaginative books for us to read, turned to the channel to watch The Nutcracker during the holidays and pretty much praised any of their kids who attempted to paint, write, play an instrument or sing. Some of us were more creative than others, but we all were aware what beauty was.

And I was interested in art like most of my siblings. I used to take apart old costume jewelry and make contemporary designs with the beads. I wrote poetry and edited a literary journal in high school. I was chosen for a weekend art field trip to Seattle with two upper classman by my high school art teacher. I fought with my parents for years over the practicality of an art career. They won. I gave it up completely in every form and pursued science in college instead.

No more poetry, bead design or anything else creative for a long time. When I married, I started to work with interior design mostly out of neccessity than desire. Most of our furniture was second hand or fourth hand, and I found that with a few scraps of material to make curtain swags I could transform what was yard sale trash into "shabby chic". I then started a few crafty hobbies that I learned from friends and turned them into wedding gifts or baby shower gifts, especially since we didn't have much of a gift giving budget back then. After awhile, my hobby became a women's ministry when I brought my Christian friends together with a few non believing friends to make fabric covered photo albums. Creative, but hardly art.

I have not heard a lot of sermons about art, or read books that take art as a Christian endeavor really seriously. It's treated pretty much as a side issue and truth be told, I think most Christians are very cautious about art. Perhaps it is considered worldly, a waste of money or a distraction. And perhaps in many cases, that's true.

Then there is art that attempts (and succeeds) to communicate something of God. When Seungeun played a familiar hymn for our church's Maundy Thursday worship service, she played it simply and there was a second when time seemed suspended on one pure note and it took my breath away. A lot of people play the piano, but at Seungeun's hands I heard and felt the power of God through art.

A few moments later, her husband, Bart, played another hymn on his violin in a manner that reminded me of Bach's Chaconne. He did not merely perform, I felt, but was praying to God. It was beautiful because it seemed to have a fullness to it that went beyond emotion. I haven't felt that since I heard a soprano soloist in Seattle 19 years ago, the church was not only full of her voice, it seemed, but the Holy Spirit as well, because she did not bring the attention to her talent but to God whom she was worshiping. That pointed me towards a lesson which could be applied to a lot of other things in life.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

When The Heat Is On

I was dreading going to work this evening. Graduation weekend is brutally busy in this college community, and I knew we were short staffed. So, I prayed in the car on the way to work, mostly for patience and strength. When I got there, we were more short staffed than I thought and the store was upside down. But everyone was working hard and staying positive, and I found it easy to get into the vibe and roll with it.

Praying about work is something I am learning a lot about. I don't ask that things be easy, or that God would change the circumstances to favor me anymore. I've found my propensity to whine about work has dramatically decreased over the last year, mostly because of prayer. With a job like mine, you never know what to expect--things change on a dime and there are surprises every day. God helps me take it in stride, because I am growing in believing that even the difficulties are there for my good.

What helps you when the pressure is on?
James 1:2-3 "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience."
1 Peter 3:3-4 "Do not let your adornment be merely outward--aranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel--rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God."
These verses encourage me to trust God with all my heart.
We had an excellent evening by the way, and it was pretty fun, actually.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Thoughts About Gardening

Many years ago, in a women's bible study, we were covering the sin of covetousness. For some reason, the leader zero'd in on me and asked if I tended to covet other people's homes. Maybe she asked because my husband and I had half of the other women's husbands' income, but I didn't mind. Thinking about it, I realized I was ecstatic to have a roof over my head. So, my answer was "no, but I tend to envy gardens." To this day, I am amazed at my friends who are able to make things grow around their homes. And keep them growing. I am pretty good with dandelions, but other than that, it is a struggle.

Gardening really doesn't cost all that much, especially if you plant perennials and they all survive. My major expenses are books about gardening. And even then, I still borrow a lot of horticulture books from the local library. Some of my planting experiments work, a few do okay and a lot totally flop. The flops usually involve seeds planted too late, bulbs that aren't good quality or a couple of rose bush rootstocks that don't take for some reason. My major problem is that I have been trying to grow "Althea" bushes at least four times and all of them died. So much for the "bloom where you are planted" sentiment.

My father is an awesome gardener, and you would think that some of his talent would have been passed down to me, but no. My home in Washington had a sunny backyard and a shady frontyard. Dad grew ferns as big as small ponies hanging in the front porch and half the backyard was planted in tomatoes and snowpea pods, the other half in roses. Plus, peach and cherry trees. I grew up picking breakfast right in our backyard, as well as dinner. A trumpet vine climbed up the back of the house and a yellow climbing rose up the side. And since Dad made leis for our graduations, huge chrysthanthymums grew on the other side of the fence, next to the street. I asked him to make my wedding bouquet out of flowers from our backyard, and it was beautifully designed with ferns and roses that he grew himself and that I remember picking as a girl, smelling their sweet perfume. He turned the enclosed part of the porch into his own greenhouse/electronics shop. You would see his experiments with African Violet propagation next to his tools and radios that he was taking apart and fixing.

When Dad was finishing electrical engineering in college, I was five and he also grew a garden to feed his growing family. How he did it, studying and maintaining that huge garden, I don't know. But I remember the potatoes, carrots, lettuces and tomatoes, as well as green beans and peas and rhurbarb. There was an older man, retired, who lived across the alleyway that had a huge garden, too. We called him Uncle John, and Mom would send things over to him via my brother and I that she had baked. He would pay us back by telling us stories, our favorite was Peter Rabbit, which he would tell as though Peter was right there with us and he would act out the part of Farmer McGregor. My brother adored Uncle John and would talk a long time, Uncle John patiently answering his questions. He and Dad also would have long talks about growing things. They'd talk about military stuff as well, since Dad was in the Army for a while and he was a WWII vet. He was probably the reason a Hawaiian guy like my dad figured out how to grow stuff in North Dakota. And the reason we didn't starve--money was really tight those days.

Uncle John was the first person I ever knew who died. I remember looking over at his garden and missing not seeing him work. My brother still would go over to check out if he was there or not, knocking on Uncle John's door until his widow would tearfully send him home. He kept the peace among the hordes of kids that ran around the neighborhood, and after he was gone, things started to happen that weren't good. For anyone. Especially me. More about that later. Or maybe not. Before Uncle John died, he called me over to his fence and warn me to stay away from certain kids, but I was confused, since I thought those kids were friends. Uncle John tried to tell me that not everyone who looks like a friend is one. Also, Uncle John was barely able to talk or walk, leaning on his hoe, I was frightened at his change of appearence and focused on that instead of his words. Because I disregarded his warning, it changed my entire life. It's amazing what a difference one person's life made and what it is like when they're not there anymore.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Eye of the Beholder

When I went to get the mail this morning, I was amazed to see all these bright yellow flowers all over our yard. It seemed as though some fairy came and planted them overnight. They were everywhere! We were the only yard blessed in the neighborhood with so many sunny cheerful little blossoms, yes, we had more of them than anyone. So, I got my garden gloves and trowel and pulled every one of those suckers out. I think it took me an hour and a half--I had to get the ones popping up in the side yard, too. I filled a whole garbage bag full.
I noticed as I moved from one side of the yard to the other, that the weeds were bigger as I progressed. I surmised the the original culprit probably was on the other side of the driveway, and yes, there was only one that had developed and gone to seed. I was pulling up all its little babies that had sprouted up and bloomed all over the yard. But as I progressed, I was thinking of those days a long time ago when I loved these flowers and their puff balls, too.
My best friend, Veronica, and I would pick large bouquets of dandylions for our moms. Tons of them. We were so thoughtful and we really thought that they were beautiful. Everything else that grew we could not touch, but here were all these blossoms for free. We made chains of them for bracelets, necklaces and crowns. We even made dandylion rings, one for each finger. Our dolls had flower jewelry, too. Our creativity was unleashed with all the abundence of these wonderful flowers. When they turned to puffballs we blew them to ensure a continual crop of them.
I looked up the properties of dandylions online, to figure out a better and easier way to kill them. It was fascinating. It seems like my favorite childhood flower is a source of food and medicine. According to Wikipedia:
While the dandelion is considered a weed by many gardeners and lawn owners, the plant does have several culinary and medicinal uses. Dandelions are grown commercially at a small scale as a leaf vegetable. The plant can be eaten cooked or raw in various forms, such as in soup or salad. They are probably closest in character to mustard greens. Usually the young leaves and unopened buds are eaten raw in salads, while older leaves are cooked. Raw leaves have a slightly bitter taste. Dandelion salad is often accompanied with hard boiled eggs. The leaves are high in vitamin A, vitamin C and iron, carrying more iron and calcium than spinach.[3]
Dandelion flowers can be used to make dandelion wine. The recipe usually contains citrus fruit. Another recipe using the plant is dandelion flower jam. Ground roasted dandelion root can be used as a coffee substitute. Drunk before meals, it is believed to stimulate digestive functions. Sold in most health food stores, often in a mixture, it is considered an excellent cleansing tonic for the liver.

Main article: Medicinal properties of dandelion
Dandelion root is a registered drug in Canada, sold as a diuretic. A leaf decoction can be drunk to "purify the blood", for the treatment of anemia, jaundice, and also for nervousness. The milky latex has been used as a mosquito repellent; the milk is also applied to warts, helping get rid of them without damaging the surrounding skin. A dye can also be obtained from the roots of the plant. A new mixture of roasted roots is sold as a product called DandyBlend which tastes like coffee after the inulin in the dandelion is roasted."Dandelion and Burdock" is a soft drink that has long been popular in the United Kingdom with authentic recipes sold by health food shops. It is unclear whether cheaper supermarket versions actually contain either plant.This plant also is useful in farming, because its deep, strong roots break up hardpan.
So, one flower has many perspectives. For a little girl, a free form art medium and temporary jewels. A mom, a token of love. A cook, nutritious greens or jam or a coffee replacement. A doctor, wart remover. And a farmer, a natural soil tiller. And for gardeners like me, a weed.
And as it is with the humble dandylion, so it is with many things in life.


I've come across something I wanted to share, Bono's speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. I've got a portion of it below. Click http://www.data.org/archives/000774.php to read the whole thing. I do remember that Bono is a rock star, not a theologian. Some of his statements about Scripture raise questions after I've read them and I have to check out the Bible myself (good for us all to do often) on the subject. But I am glad that he is a Christian of compassion who seeks to use his position to influence the first world to not forget the third world. And because he has talked to a lot of people and traveled, I am interested in his perspective.
These questions nag at me: Can there be justice without equality? Can there be equality without justice? Is the African AIDS epidemic response requiring more than charity? And if equality and justice are needed, how is that provided?
In this context, drug companies have the medicine to treat AIDS, but the people who need it can't afford it. If they can't afford it, they die. The same with malaria, TB and many other diseases. So, what prevents the companies from lowering the prices so that they are within reach? And furthermore, why isn't this headline news more often? Bono isn't trying to influence people to give more, but he's trying to persuade the movers and shakers of big companies to give up the "bottom line" and for the rest of us to get upset that they don't.
I mean, how many of us are shareholders in some of these companies?

But here’s the bad news. From charity to justice, the good news is yet to come. There’s is much more to do. There’s a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response.

And finally, it’s not about charity after all, is it? It’s about justice.

Let me repeat that: It’s not about charity, it’s about justice.

And that’s too bad.

Because you’re good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can’t afford it.

But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment. 6,500 Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about Justice and Equality.

Because there's no way we can look at what’s happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn’t accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the Tsunami. 150, 000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, “mother nature”. In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. And it’s a completely avoidable catastrophe.

It’s annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren’t they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Some Thoughts from a Seventeen Year Old Marriage

Dennis and I took a weekend off and headed up north. We stayed at Boyne Mountain and visited our favorite places on the lake and headed out to discover new favorite places. The transitional spring weather was very transitional, changing every few hours. I didn't want to worry about food, so I made two different pasta salads and a wild rice salad to pack and take up with us. We wanted to relax and do whatever we wanted. Dennis pursued God in all morning long devotional bible reading and prayer. I had extended sleeping in times and general all day moods of relaxation and peacefulness. I forgot to pack books, but I brought my bible and my journal, so my quiet times were substantial and undistracted by phone and computer, although not quite as long as Den's. We just hung out together and talked over coffee, enjoying each other's company.

After 17 years, it is nice that we both like each other. If we disagree these days, it is brief and resolved quickly, and it hardly ruins our day. We learned a long time ago that anger and arguements are a waste of time. Our time together is too short. So, peacemaking is a skill that we finally learned to cultivate, although we still have a lot more to learn. We went back home with a contentedness that only a relaxed time could bring to fruition.

It wasn't a perfect weekend in the sense that we did a lot. In the past, we've biked and ate out a lot more and shopped and went on long walks and had picnics with our books and purpose-filled spiritual agendas and ministry burdens and concerns and important decisions on direction. The most consistent thing last weekend was a lot of coffee and a lot of talking during the day and a lot of wine and talking at night. About ourselves.

Dennis planned the weekend. Although I usually plan and implement these kinds of things, and I plan them differently. When he announced the decision he made that we were going to Boyne Mountain on such and such a weekend, I nearly asked for another decision for another date but I decided not to. I did quietly grumble to God that no one asked me if this was a good time or not. And God told me that I better submit, since this is the first time Dennis initiated as directly as this, so it must be important to follow. So, throughout the weekend, when Dennis said, "Let's drive to Point Betsie." or "Let's go to the work out center and hit the treadmills." I said, "Sure." Sometimes we did what he suggested and sometimes we did what I suggested.

I realized how much more I need to learn to follow my husband. To align myself to his purposes and direction. And I relaxed. At my job, it falls on me to make the direction for the evening, to set the pace and coordinating people and tasks. It helps a lot to work with partners who trust my judgement and decisionmaking. When it isn't there, then it is a very long, exasperating evening. So, I can relate to Dennis' dilemma when he feels he doesn't get my support. And he understands better now that I'm not against him, I just want to make sure we are thinking clearly about we are doing.

On Friday morning, before we left for Boyne Mountain, I was working the opening shift. It was between Nikki and me to assume the role of shift supervisor, and for the first time in months, I wasn't. I just did my job at my position, and I was amazed that I was really good at it. I mean, I saw finally what my manager saw in me when she wanted to promote me to be a supervisor again (I stepped down for a few years).

Being a good follower is important in order to be a good leader. And in marriage, there is one leader and one follower. Messing with this causes a lot of confusion, I think. And power struggles. And headaches. It requires a lot of trust and good communication skills. And most of all, it is impossible without love. I think our weekend solidified our marriage in terms of deepening our listening abilities and reminding us how much we really do care about each other. It was a good time.