Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Assessing The Situation

Around this time of year, I like to get organized and get ready for a fresh start at the beginning of a new year. It's sort of a habit. Or, more like a compulsion.

I've already made lists and drawn diagrams. Oh yes. Diagrams. We are going to move some furniture from one room to the next. I've thought it all out.

It's just that we've lived in one place--this house--for five years. It's the longest I've ever lived in one place since I left Ephrata, Washington for college at WSU. And in five years, we change.
What seemed like a good thing five years ago is inadequate now.

Our guest room will share duties as a study for me. I'm putting in bookshelves, my desk and a reading chair. I'm painting the walls light green. The windows face southeast, so I can have some houseplants on the windowsill. The reason for my decision is that I fight clutter all over the house and I spread my books and stuff in so many places sometimes it is hard to keep track of them. And by the computer, it gets in both Dennis' and my way.

Sometimes, you just have to start over.

But will I actually use the room as intended? I prefer to be in the middle of things, instead of hidden away from the rooms we frequently use together. I do get an empty feeling when I work on my new plans for the study--no matter how nice it will be, it won't be the same as blogging in the same room where Dennis is watching football. Or having a quiet time seated at the dining room table while Dennis is in the living room on the open level below me. The study, I guess, will be more about organization than really needing a place to work or read.

When studying in school, I preferred crowded libraries, the student union cafes, the full lounges and my parent's living room, where family walked by or sat in the next room talking. I shared a bedroom with my sister for many years, and then had roommates for several years in college. I rarely ever had a space all my own.

Then I got married. Sharing living space with my husband has never been a problem, even though we are different. I like things neat. His clutter needs corraling--"everything in it's place" apparently is a saying he never learned growing up. In fact, it feels strange only having one person to share a home with. I've always been happy surrounded by roommates, family and friends.

My sister and I were talking yesterday and the phrase "giving people space to be empowered to(fill in the blank)" came up a lot. There's something to think about--how does one give people "space"? My sense of personal space--physically and emotionally--is most likely much smaller than most. What is adequate for me might be really be stifling for someone else.

How I am enables me to work for several hours behind a counter doing repetitive work in close proximity with several other co-workers without feeling crowded in or uncomfortable. I can tell when I am working with someone who doesn't tolerate the confined area. They keep wanting to "spread out" or pushing people and things away from them. Everything gets in their way and makes them frustrated. They want to do things away from their assigned position and jobs, and float away from the line. At the right times, they are good candidates for projects in other parts of the store. I'm pretty different than that--I get very focused at what I do. I often have blinders on as a result of being too focused and too narrow. I'm working on stepping back and getting a wider view, and it is helping a lot. My job place is a good example of how different people respond uniquely to space or the lack of it.

So, giving space, stepping back, assessing the situation and getting a bigger picture are going to be a new way for me to operate not only in the workplace but also in relationships.

I'll keep you all posted.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Carol


"What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,--
Yet what I can I give Him
Give my heart."
--Christina Rossetti from A Christmas Carol, 1871




In college, a friend challenged me to stop wasting my talents. He was referring to the fact that I played the flute but didn't serve the Lord in our church's worship with it. Our fellowship at the time had one guitar and a piano for leading our worship songs and hymns. I was horribly out of practice, and I knew that nothing was better than something if it didn't sound good. So, I started to play my flute for part of my quiet times. For Christmas, I was asked to play something for special music. I decided to play what I was doing for my quiet times already. A collage of hymns, starting out with "O Come Emmanuel", with "Sacred Head, Now Wounded" and finally, "Jesus Christ is Risen Today".
People don't usually sing Easter hymns for Christmas. I could never see why. To contemplate the beginning, you need to also consider the whole picture. And the best Christmas carols are the ones that feature the truth about why Jesus came to be with us. Unfortunately, in our culture and many others, things just got stuck at the manger. All people see is an ordinary baby and unusual characters surrounding him besides his parents (what a weird baby shower-shepherds, animals and wise guys).
What each nativity scene should include is a warning sticker that reads: "Caution: What You Are Seeing Here Is More Amazing Than (1)An Atomic Bomb, (2)Traveling At Lightspeed, And (3)Aliens Visiting Us From Outerspace All Added Together." The whole idea of Someone who created me--designed me and all my days from beginning to end--put His own holy deity into flesh. Not just for kicks, or for a nice hello, how are you all doing. But to suffer and die because we need Someone to do it for us. We are really helpless down here on this planet and we need to be saved. We can't figure out God for ourselves. We need His Son to tell us what we are not getting.
Thank God He came.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

My Favorite Food

I love my job.
I talk about coffee all day with coffee drinkers. I make coffee all day. I participate in a business that focuses on people, as well as their experience with coffee.

Today was an amazing day. It's been an amazing Christmas season for our store, retail-wise. And the reason I find it satisfying is because we've had such good relationships with our customers that they would rather shop with us for the holidays than go to the mall. They just chose us based on great service they recieved every day. It didn't happen overnight.

And I try to remember this applies to being a Christian, about being fruitful, in anything. We obey, just doing the basics everyday, being "steadfast, immovable, abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that our toil [work] is not in vain in the Lord". That was my quiet time this morning, God encouraging me not to give up. In my job. In my life. In my Christianity. It's not in vain...in the Lord.

Happy Christmas!
Wow. It's here already. We've been slammed. And when not slammed, I've been wiped out. But tomorrow I have off (yippeee!!) and Christmas as well. Big huge sigh. I made it...

So as we celebrate, it is such a good picture of Wisdom's table, where she says in Proverbs:

"She has prepared her food, she has mixed her wine;
She has also set her table;
She has sent out her maidens, she calls
From the tops of the heights of the city:
'Whoever is naive, let him turn in here!'
To him who lacks understanding, she says,
'Come, eat of my food,
And drink of the wine I have mixed.
'Forsake your folly and live,
And proceed in the way of understanding'"

May we come to the Wisdom of the Incarnation--of God becoming a man to become the sacrificial Lamb for us--and feast on her food and wine, forsaking our foolishness and heading down the road of really comprehending life.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Immature Thinking, Part 3 "Flopsy Mopsy"

"For the waywardness of the naive shall kill them, and the complacency of fools shall destroy them." Proverbs 1:32, NASB

In my previous post, I talked about my initial attempts to persuade my parents to do some things on my own which involved, primarily, to get the heck out of town. They went through a process of questioning, listening to my answers and then thinking about it a few days before they gave an answer. It was a good strategy. First, they avoided an arguement with me right then and there. Second, they could spend a few days laughing about it behind my back "She wants to do what? With whom???" Third, it gave me a chance to realize how crazy a plan I was hatching and come to my senses (never happened). And fourth, and most importantly, it gave my parents time to gather intel from other parents, siblings who wanted to do me in and any other information floating out there along the grapevine. To see if I was telling them the truth or if I really that naive.

The Spokane concert to see the great Maynard Fergueson, whom I heard could hit really high notes on his trumpet was not a bad thing. It's just that my best friend, Karen and I were not the sharpest blades in the drawer. And according to Karen and Sheila's mom, as Karen overheard it, with Sheila along it was a matter of the "blind leading the blind." Sheila was not on good terms at that time with her parent's authority. And my parent's heard from a "little bird" that I was developing a big crush on the lead trumpeter in our stage band, so my ardent desire for live jazz was driven by my hormones. Since I was not forthcoming on that bit of personal information, it was a huge strike against me. For our own sakes and for our parents' peace of mind, we stayed home. Later, Doug, my big crush, told me it was an awesome concert. I really should have gone. I was mad for weeks.

As for the camping trip later, it's a longer story. Laurie, the 20 year old camp counselor, had been writing me for several months after summer camp was over. She was writing to all her campers So was her co-counselor, Joan. I was very attached to Laurie and Joan, they were my big sisters that I never had. Through their weekly letters, I read about their college studies, their love of the outdoors, animals and freedom. Because of my blind devotion to them, they could do no wrong in my eyes. I overlooked and had forgotten that they smoked pot once at camp, caught by other campers who knew what they were smelling and followed their noses. When they were caught, they let the one of older campers join in. I heard about it later, and finally, Laurie and Joan asked us older campers to not say anything, because they and the directors could get fired or the camp could be closed. This is where complacency comes in, of knowing the right thing, but not heeding it or doing anything about it.

Naivete came in when I thought that all their letters to me were about caring for me and for the other campers. Laurie and Joan knew my younger sister, but she only got one letter from them after camp. The letter writing campaign was about keeping us campers that knew their secret loyal to them, it was about manipulation. What my parents did not know when they decided to not let me go camping with Laurie was that there was an investigation underway about the camp. Apparently, Laurie and Joan were under suspicion, and a few months later, were told that they lost their summer jobs. They had worked at the Girl Scout camp for several years and it was a huge blow to them. The director, who lived 17 miles away from me, also lost her job after working there for 20 years.

Around that time when Joan and Laurie were given pink slips, Joan was in town and offered to visit. She and her room mate wanted to go to take me to see the director who lived about a half hour away. I asked Mom, who left it up to me. So, I went, not knowing that Joan had lost her job at the camp until we were at the director's house. On the trip there, Joan lit up a roach and asked me to steer while she did it. Finally, her room mate asked her to pull over and let her drive, so Joan sat in the back of the VW bug, getting high. I was confused when we got to our destination because all Joan wanted to do was take a nap when the director told her that she wouldn't be returning to the camp. It was a quiet ride home. Joan asked me if I had told my parents anything about last summer. I had not. But it didn't occur to me at the time that that had anything to do with anything related to Joan's job security.

I didn't write either Joan and Laurie again. The hero worship came to an abrupt halt. Mom noticed my fan mail had fallen off and asked me about it. I told her that Joan turned out to be a complete pot head, and that I wasn't interested in staying in touch anymore. I didn't know it, but that comment went huge in my favor in Mom's eyes. When Mom met Joan when she came to pick me up, she saw a guilty look on her face that she didn't understand. Mom told me later that she thought Joan had a secret to hide, and her first thought was that she was gay and possibly attached to me. Which explained all the letters. But I think it was about trying to hold on to her summer job, and fear that my Mom (active in Scouting except for outdoorsy things) was the one responsible for whistle blowing. Truth is, Mom was in the dark about all that.

I did get a letter from another camper that year. She was thinking about smoking pot, just to experiment with a friend and asked what I thought. I said absolutely not. My Mom happened to take me shopping in my fellow camper's hometown and we met for a few hours. I asked her if she started drugs and she said that she tried. It was great. She was 15, and although she didn't smoke pot at camp, I wondered if the counselors' influence had an effect on her. I made her promise to think for herself and resist any pressure to participate. She promised and I found out later, kept it. I told Mom about my meeting with my camping friend and what we talked about. That also put me in good standing with my parents. I was showing that I was leaning towards maturity. I'm sure that they were relieved--for awhile, they didn't know which way I would choose to go. At that age, I was considered "flopsy mopsy" for a long time.

I did go to summer camp the next year with my old group from the last year. We didn't talk much and cried a little about not seeing the old staff. (We still didn't get it) The new staff was great and one of them had a book written by a young Christian woman that held my attention and got me thinking about God in a way I never did before. Six months later, at Christmas, I began to go in a more personal direction with God that I had not thought was possible before I read the counselor's book.

As of now, I don't know what became of everyone I camped with. I did run into the Christian counselor at WSU three years later. I was a sophmore and she was in grad school. She really had a hard time remembering me and the book she brought with her that summer. She said that she brought the smallest book she could because we were going backpacking and it was the right size, not because anyone was trying to witness to us. But she was glad that it helped me.

So, not only did I learn about good thinking through my parents. I learned that my parents had wisdom and understanding that I had not possessed because they were older and experienced. I learned how not to complacently put my trust in someone like Laurie or Sheila or Doug and naively follow them around. My parents did not have all the information, but they followed their instincts, honed by their maturity, to guide me away from trouble since I had no such instincts of my own. And I was able to be open towards good and not evil, which is something I still don't understand how it happened. In this world, the odds are pretty much stacked against the naive.

As Christians, we still have to watch out for complacency and naivete. Our judgement could be severely compromised by our emotions and hormones. And the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God. What will we gain by fearing God? I think a lot, according to the Bible:

"My son (daughter), if you will recieve my sayings,
And treasure my commandments within you,
Make your ear attentive to wisdom,
Incline your heart to understanding;
For if you cry for discernment,
Lift your voice for understanding;
If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will discern the fear of the Lord
And discover the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
He is a sheild to those who walk in integrity,
Guarding the paths of justice,
And He preserves the way of His godly ones.
Then you will discern righteousness and justice
And equity and every good course.
For wisdom will enter your heart,
And knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
Discretion will guard you,
Understanding will watch over you,
To deliver you from the way of evil,
From the man who speaks perverse things;"
---Proverbs 2:1-11

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Immature Thinking, Part 2

When I was 15, I developed a love for jazz music. I bought a few albums from my A&W earnings as a cook and carhop; favorites included Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Claude Bolling, Hubert Laws, even Chuck Mangione. I read in the paper that a famous trumpeter was playing in Spokane, 3 hours northeast of my hometown of Ephrata. My best friend's older sister could drive the two of us to the concert, and she could stand in as a sort of chaperone. I posted the newspaper ad on the pantry door, so that my parents could see that something cool was going to happen in a few months. I asked the trumpet players in our high school stage band what they thought of the concert. The older ones were planning to go. I couldn't believe such good fortune. Culture and cute boys, could not miss this.

So, I got the courage to ask my parents if I could go. They asked me very specific questions about my plans. Like, who else other than Sheila and Karen are going? Ummm, older boys from stage band--nice, nerdy boys. (What, how did they know about the stage band guys?) How old is Sheila? Ummm, 17--really mature for her age. How long is the concert? I don't know. When will you be home? I don't know. They said they'd get back to me in a few days. I was on pins and needles for three days. I played jazz on my turntable in my bedroom for hours on end. Loud, so that everyone could tell I love this music. Finally, my parents declared that I was too young to go to a concert in the big city of Spokane. I could not understand why. It wasn't rock and roll. It wasn't Loverboy or Kiss or anything else that I heard other kids my age were going to see. It was Jazz. Mature music.

When I was 16, some friends invited me to go along with them for some camping during spring break. Hmmm. Let me ask Mom and Dad. The questions began. So, who is going? Laurie and Sue. How old are they? Laurie is 20, remember, my camp counselor from summer Girl Scout camp? And Sue, she's 15, I camped with her at the same summer camp. Where are you going? I'm not sure, somewhere around Lake Chelan. Is it a State Park? No, we'll just find a place in the woods and camp. How long are you camping? Probably the whole weekend. What are you going to eat? Canned stew. Okay, we'll get back to you on Monday. What? I'm a Senior Girl Scout--I camped and camped, in the winter in 9th grade, in the summer, in the spring, in the fall. I camped with girls. I back packed. I camped with my mixed gender Outdoor Ed class. I always came home in one piece.

On Monday, my parents gave me a firm no. I was too young to go camping with a 20 year old and a 15 year old. I asked why, and the response was that it didn't seem well planned and I would be somewhere without being able to contact anyone. I had left a lot of details in Laurie's hands, but she was the camp counselor who guided us through a few backpack trips in northern Washington state last summer. I trusted her completely. My parents wondered why a 20 year old would hang out with high schoolers. Without getting paid. It didn't seem right. And we were all women. My dad made a point that weird men hung out in desolate places. We would be sitting ducks. And the time of year was bad. There are avalanches in the spring at higher elevations.

After this, I realized that my parents were looking for logic in my thinking and complete answers. They even wanted me to consider "opportunity costs" in my plans--pay I would be missing out on when I asked for time off from work on weekends. And "little birds" told them what I was thinking about before I even asked them about it--loved my little brother and sisters for their double agent spying activities. Everytime I said "I don't know", it increased my chances of not going to 200%. Just saying, "I want to do this", no matter how passionate I was about it, didn't cut it with Mom and Dad. And they weren't going to plan my outings for me. After this, I learned to have better answers and a thorough itinerary prepared.

I never heard "too young" again. My parents were impressed by a weekend trip my best friend and I planned to Wenatchee to visit her sister Sheila in college and celebrate our upcoming graduation. We went shopping, out to eat, went on a lake cruise, went hiking, saw Sheila and some other older friends in now in college. I went with a couple of friends from work to Pullman to check WSU over a weekend. I went with friends to Seattle to visit the art museum for a weekend, staying with friends and investigating a real big city. My best friend and I went frequently to shop in Wenatchee on our own. My senior year, you could not keep me in Ephrata. I was continually on the go. My parents gave me "flying lessons" by showing me how to think. They taught me that having a big heart was not enough, but heart and brains were meant to be a team.

So, following my parents' example I also learned how to ask myself questions everytime I planned something. It helped to anticipate what they would ask and be prepared. I ask as many questions as possible from every angle of the plan. Maybe too many questions. But I've learned sometimes it is good to know what I don't know. The habit has stuck with me ever since.

Spiritually, it helps that we learn to think maturely. To have complete logical thoughts even though we do not have all the answers. It isn't good enough that we have all heart and no brains, which is the common stereotype of Christians here in America (and some think the heart part might be stretching it, too). And we need to kick in the question machine, it is good to know what we don't know. But even better to know what we do know, what we can know and what we should know.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Immature Thinking


I don't blog about social issues very much, even though I have a lot to say about the subject. Ooooh, we don't like controversy, do we? But, I've noticed something as I've looked around lately. A lot of people have decided not to grow up.

In my family, I was considered the "late bloomer". The last of the older three to drive, to graduate from college, to marry, and at this writing, parent a family among all four and half siblings. My father urged me at the age of twenty to stop being a perpetual 16 year old. He wanted me to move on and was worried at the consequences if I didn't. At 24, I bought my second car while living in Seattle--a used 1985 Buick Skylark in a metallic gold color and soft beige suede seats. I remember a roommate at the same age as I express awe of what I had done (it involved taking a second job, doing a lot of research, visiting car lots, and driving a lot of cars) and then saying she had a hard time seeing herself take on that step of adulthood. She really didn't want to go there, she was happy where she was. I wondered if she would still be saying that at 45.

At 26, I married a real grown up, who was a grown up from the time he was 17. He pushed me along to finally grab a hold of what adulthood was. At 28, I told a friend that I finally caught up with my chronological age. I felt good. I was looking forward to my 30's, and while in my 30's I eagerly anticipated being in my 40's. So much in fact, I started to lie about my age that I was older than I was. From the time I was 37, I was telling people that I was 40.

But now I'm looking around. There seems to be a trend for 40 somethings to start dressing and behaving like they are in their twenties. The Macintosh Apple commercial features a guy representing Mac computers in his 20's while PC guy is a balding middle age looking person, and desperate to look like he's "with it" or "cool". And failing, while Mac guy gives pitying looks or glances aside, embarrassed for him. And while at the Target store, I made my husband try on jeans that were of a newer and fashionable cut, with a new fabric treatment to his howling protests. He did and hated them. He said he felt like a hobo, although I thought he looked really good. But then it caused me to wonder if I was allowing 20 year old fashion ideas color my idea of what's appropriate. Our culture values youth above everything, and it affects me as well. I really need to pay heed to this. Scriptures agree:
1 Corinthians 13: 11 (NLT) "It's like this: When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child does. But when I grew up, I put away childish things."

On a blog by Tim Challies, Challies Dot Com, there is a posting of a book review by Diana West, called Death of the Grown Up where she makes a legitimate case for people postponing adulthood and all its responsibilities. I really want to read this book. An excerpt of Challies' review:
Having laid a foundation for the death of the grown-up, West surveys a
variety of topics, showing how they are contributing to the downfall of society
or how they played a role in the rise of the adolescent. She looks to popular
music and entertainment, to parents who need parents, and to a society that
values excess rather than control. And then the book takes an unexpected turn.
As she moves from the past to the future, West suggests why this matters so
much; she turns to the consequences of the death of adulthood and the death
of maturity. Focusing on the ideas of multiculturalism and political
correctness, cultural forces she believes could only be accepted by an immature
society that is willing to pretend that differences are non-existent and
unimportant, she suggests that these leave us entirely unequipped to deal with
the forces seeking to destroy us. (italics mine)
And here she points
primary to Islam and to terrorism. She writes about how our immature thinking
leaves us unable to grapple with the reality of what we are facing in global
Islam. Our society sits passively by, anaesthetized with movies, music,
television and video games, while Islam plants deeper and deeper roots
within.

The Death of the Grown-Up is a compelling book. While it is certainly not
the only book examining the growth of adolescence, it is perhaps the most
far-reaching and the most courageous in its analysis of where this will and must
lead. If West is correct, our society needs to grow up and needs to do so before
it is too late. Yet whether or not you find you agree with her prescription,
only a person blind to the culture could disagree with her initial analysis. And
on this basis alone this book is worth reading and enjoying. I recommend it to
anyone with an interest in understanding the culture we find ourselves
in.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas is Coming!

Dennis put up our tree today while I was away at work. It was nice to come home and hear Christmas music on and see my hubby with his Santa hat on! He took our puppy out earlier to shovel snow, and they had a blast out there. I wish I had gotten pictures! Right now, he took the dog out to help him run errands and the cat and I are decorating the tree. Well, until she freaked out in sensory overload and left to take a nap somewhere dark and quiet.

I have a lot of ornaments my grandmother gave me every year while I was growing up. For some reason, I have a lot of pink ornaments. I guess because my favorite color forever was pink, and as un-Christmas-y as it is, I can work it in my adult red and white ornament theme. I also got a lot of ornaments from around the world, Grandma looked for hand-made decorations from Mexico, Russia, Germany, etc... And she noticed I liked birds, so I have a lot of bird ornaments.

It's hard not to think of Grandma every Christmas. Or the way she tried so hard to know me and what I liked.

I once said that to Mom, and she said that was pretty much Grandma's goal.

Which is fine, but Christmas is about Christ, I think. Yes, it's wonderful that my family loves me. But again, but Christmas is about Christ. I'm glad that I came to full realization of that when I was sixteen. It was a nice holiday that year, but I keenly felt something missing that year more than ever before. The food was perfect, had a good time with family, presents were great and we even went to Midnight Mass, which was really great. I went for an evening walk and passed by the church. The doors were unlocked and I went in. I sat and contemplated for awhile, no small thing for me, because it was dark and I was afraid of the dark. Only the altar candles were lit and I couldn't see much at all. I prayed, thanking Christ for coming and dying for my sins, and that no matter what happened after I died, I knew that what He did made a difference because He was God and sinless and was the Perfect Lamb of God, who died for the sins of the world, including mine. What great love was that? Who could match that love? And yes, I did feel for the first time, a peace that surpasses all understanding. I asked God to help me know Him and have a relationship with Him.

Where did I learn that this was possible? I don't know. After I thanked Jesus for dying for me, that idea came to me. No one in the Catholic church was preaching about knowing God and having a relationship with Him that I remember. And although the Gospel was clearly presented in the Midnight Mass and in our priest's homily, no one called for a "decision" or any kind of response. I just did. And I'm glad that I did. But now I know, more than ever, that this was not my doing or my effort. And now, more than ever, I know that this story of conversion was never about me in the first place. It's about Him, His great power to reach even a self-involved and insecure teenager like I was and about His great love that He gives to all of us, even to such a wretch like me. Amazing grace. Christmas is coming!

And for that, I'm truely excited.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Trust In Him




"Trust in him." Psalm 37:5

The word "trust" is the heart of faith and is the Old Testament word given
to the infant, or early, stages of faith. The word "faith" conveys more an
act of the will, while the word "belief" conveys an act of the mind or
intellect, but trust is the language of the heart. The words "faith" and
"belief" refer more to a truth believed or to something expected to
happen.

Trust implies more than this, for it sees and feels and it leans on those
who have a great, living, and genuine heart of love. Therefore let us
"trust also in him" (Ps 37:5 KJV) through all the delays, in spite of all the
difficulties, and in the face of all the rejection we encounter in life.
And in spite of our feelings and evidence to the contrary, and even when we
cannot understand our way or our situation, may we still "trust also in him;
[for] he shall bring it to pass." The way will open, our situation will be
changed, and the end result will be peace. The cloud will finally be
lifted, and the light of eternal noonday will shine at last.

---L.B. Cowman, Streams In The Desert

Friday, December 14, 2007

My Brother

I have a brother two and a half years younger than me. As we grew up, he often bemoaned the fact that he was outnumbered by sisters 3 to 1. I don't think he ever forgave my parents for not giving him a brother to hang out with, although our sister who came after him had enough tomboy spunk in her to make up for the brother he never had. She rarely played with me and our dolls, but was mostly in his room with her toy horses, heading up the calvary in his imaginary wars. During such campaigns, she wore her cowboy hat and cowboy boots. She always came through for the rescue. You could count on her.

They match each other mind for mind, joke for joke and mischief for mischief. There have only been a few rifts between them. The rifts were serious ones. Like, when my brother pinned a beau of hers to the wall in the school hallway and told him he wasn't good enough for her (he wasn't). She hated the interference in her business. And then another time long after high school. They didn't talk for a few years until his wedding. I can't remember what it was about, but I can guess that it was about him interfering in her business. I do remember him telling me that he didn't care how mad she was, she was going to ruin her life and someone had to say something. He felt as though he was the only one who would stay up late nights and wait for her to come home to confront her. In response, she cut him off. She, the calvary and the adoring little sister who tagged after him always.

My mom fretted during the whole time during those silent two years about the loss of their close relationship. My sister was not an easy one to discipline and did not feel that it was her brother's place. But I've got the picture of them at the wedding reception, smiling Fran in mid-joke and John laughing next to her, with quick jab reply ready on his lips to shoot off. You can see the wheels in motion in both their heads, loving every moment of it. Being brother and sister. Knowing each other better than anybody. Knowing what the other was going to say before it was said. Respecting each other. Despite their teasing, they loved each other and cared a lot.

I had always been on the outside, looking in at their usual joke rituals and never taking each other too seriously. When they were with me, everything I said was taken seriously. I didn't quite have the same freedom. John and Fran were always looking towards me in a different way than towards each other. They expected something more from me. I was the oldest. I was sometimes jealous of their carefree and fun sibling rivalry. Because with me, it was just sibling rivalry. As eldest, I got priviledges and responsibilities that they didn't growing up. Which made me a target for their co-operative partnership to dethrone me. Is it lonely being at the top? Tell me about it. Plus, I wasn't as smart and had to learn the hard way how to survive. I longed for an older sister or brother to give me endless advice and take the heat from both parents and siblings. And against whom I could plot a takeover for once.

John had a tough haul being the only son, certainly. And after he married at 21, he became the father of three daughters before he was 27. Since he was the first among us to marry, he took the pressure of being the first to have to separate from our parents to establish a new family which is not easy especially at the age he chose to do it. But he did it well. He set a different precedent and established new patterns that would protect his daughters from the sexual abuse problems his sisters had in the family. This took some doing. Some bringing out some family horrors out into the open. Only a brave man could accomplish this. For this, John is my hero and the result is that his daughters trust him totally and despite their articulate arguements with his protective stubborness, respect and love him. They are all close to their dad. Through them my vindication as the victim of several childhood coups by him and Fran comes from the fact that his intelligent and accomplished beautiful offspring often make him a target to dethrone. He has had to stay on his toes. Yay, nieces!

When John and I talk on the phone, it goes for hours as he answers my questions. He does most of the talking about how his girls are doing. He knows them very well. It is obvious that even though they disagree, they have a great openness between them. He brokers deals with them and makes fair negotiations. He's involved and not afraid of a fight if it means he has to make a stand. He gets into their business. Heaven help the boyfriends who don't treat them well.

I'd like to think that having three awesome sisters while growing up has helped him a little to be an awesome dad. He knows girls, understands women and you can count on him.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Endymion

A Thing of Beauty (Endymion)

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its lovliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darkn'd ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
'Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven's brink.

John Keats

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Is Christmas Coming?

Hmmm...haven't noticed. Just kidding.

Because Dennis is working part-time now and my hours have scaled back (in a plan hatched long ago to complement his now non-existent retail holiday hours, but currently I can't change--store rules), we're cutting back a lot on our holiday spending. And we usually don't spend very much.

It's strange not to be out there in the shops, trying to work up a gift list strategy for the family and close friends. Some things I've already done, and made a deal with my sister of coffee in exchange for my share in our group gift for Dad (ssh, don't tell him). But this strange feeling of being out of the cultural loop is showing me how I've been too distracted with consumerism. Perhaps distracted from Christ during this time of celebrating His incarnation (nope, he wasn't born in December, folks).

I did make a contribution of toys for our store's family we adopted for the holidays through another charitable organization. As I was standing in the checkout lane, lots of moms were eyeing and asking about them. I had found the last Bratz Funky Makeover in the universe, and the price showed it. I didn't know what Bratz or a Funky Makeover was, but I got one for the eight year old girl who specified it on her wish list. I figured that if Santa came through for me when I was eight, I would want to make sure he did for this little girl, too. I don't know what the ramifications of that would be in terms of materialism, or the message sent about it. I figured if I found what she wanted, (and this late in the year it would be a miracle) I would get it. Other people did get the more practical and worthy stuff--clothes, books, art supplies, coats, etc... so they would already have an amazing Santa visit. But toys are important, too. Since I always had them as a kid, I would figure that they would be just as important to kids who didn't always have what they asked for or who might not in the future. If not more.

It's okay to desire something. Sometimes we get it. Sometimes we don't. But it is great when you do.

I read today's post about consumerism. It's about the Church of Stop Shopping and a movie coming out about them called "What Would Jesus Buy?". If you have a moment in your busy day, it is worth thinking about. I've got a link here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Fitness Report

I love swimming. But I may be doing more workouts on dry land instead of the water.

In Women's Health (a magazine I subscribe to) there is a quote from a report in Annals of Internal Medicine (a physician's periodical I don't subscribe to) that adults with type 2 diabetes who did 45 minutes of each cardio and weight training three times weekly lowered their blood sugar levels further than those who did 45 minutes of either activity. After 22 weeks, their levels had dropped by .97 percent which is equal to 15 percent reduction in heart attack or stroke risk. The mono-exercisers only dropped by 0.5 in their levels. The theory is that "cardio burns glucose for energy, while lifting increases the demand for energy by upping muscle mass, leaving less sugar in the blood." says lead author Ronald Sigal, M.D., M.P.H. If I don't have 90 minutes, thirty minutes of each would give me the same results.


Also, in WH I found out that:



  • The average person walks about 100 steps a minute.

  • 2,000 steps equals 1 mile.

  • A brisk 15-minute walk burns 100 calories.

  • A study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology showed scientists that women who used pedometers for 12 weeks increased their activity three times as much as non-users.

  • Women are 59 percent more likely than men to use a pedometer.

  • College grads are four times as likely as non-college grads to use one.

So, Target had a Sportline ThinQ pedometer on sale for $15 and I bought one. It's the same size as a credit card and really thin.


I hope this is news you can use.



Friday, December 07, 2007

Rescue Me


I get DVD's from the library. This week, I got season 1 of "Rescue Me", a cable tv series. We don't have cable tv, and after watching this, I saw why. It's practically NC-17. But I got it because despite all the crudeness, I like Denis Leary.


And I like the premise of the show.


The premise is, is that the surviving firemen from 9/11 are forever changed. When the towers fell to pieces, so did their entire lives even though they lived through it. Tommy Gavin (Leary) and his crew hide their anger, pain and grief under drugs, alcohol and sexual promiscuity. Not long after, there are damaged families and marriages--perhaps quite dysfunctional before 9/11, but the relationships can not bear the additional burdens that the tragedy wrought into their lives. As one wife told her husband who was channeling his feelings into poetry, "I don't want to hear about all this." You know that the marriage doesn't have a chance, that's easy. But you feel for this husband, how his wife's well meaning words crush his spirit.


What I like is that there are no quick fixes. The season ends with Gavin having to deal with truth coming to light by punching out his cousin the priest in whom he confided, and you get the feeling that things are going to get so much worse before they get better, if at all. There are no promises they will. Although the hidden pain is understood as the driving force for the self-destructiveness, abusiveness and selfishness, the volatile explosive Gavin is not a character you will like. He does things to people that you will hate. He does not treat people well. He is given every opportunity to start talking, and you hope fervently that he will open up finally at this critical moment. You want this guy to get better.


Also, as Gavin struggles with everyone else including himself, he also struggles with God. This I respect about the show. His prayers are not models of belief, but they are real and even Biblical. Anyone read all of the Psalms--the ones that communicate the serious and hard feelings? Anyone follow the ups and downs of King David? Lamentations? After Gavin punches through the other side of the confessional and slams his cousin's head several times into the dividing wall before pushing him out the door to confront him face to face, his cousin cries out "I'm your cousin!" To which Gavin shouts "You're my priest!" You get the feeling that if he could, he would want to give Jesus a black eye, too. That's how deep and black his soul is.


How does one save a savior?



Housebroken

We have snow. In the past, I would focus on it a lot. Like, listening to weather reports, worry about the roads, figure out when to start shoveling and de-icing...major big deal. Now, I see the scene outside and shrug. Which is funny, because now I'm outside more often because of Ginger, our puppy.

We have a puppy who has to be walked. She does not like to do her bathroom business in our yard. She will use the woods behind the shed where she has privacy. Or, sneak away to the neighbors' yards. Or, take us on a walk. Her fastidiousness in this weather can be maddening. She doesn't mind taking her time when the wind chill factor is below zero. She has to explore the entire wooded area while finding the exactly right place, or make us walk in circles around the neighborhood. We used to tie her up in the backyard, but after two minutes, she chewed through the line and was nowhere to be found.

This morning, Ginger was extraordinarily distracted on our walk so I took her to our backyard hoping that she would get desparate and then start compromising her routine. As I waited for her, I noticed how not even the squirrels were out. It was crazily quiet except for the twigs snapping under our feet. Some bird flew overhead that I didn't recognize and I listened to its strange call that I've never heard before.

After that unsuccessful detour, I took her back to the sidewalk and she pulled me down the icey street until we reached the easement three doors down. After she was done, she looked at me as though she was saying "this is the way it is, no poop in my backyard where I like to play". In all, I spent a half hour outside in the chill with her. My nose was numb. She is calling the shots on this issue, but we've had no accidents in the house for a long time.

Meanwhile, walking Ginger has connected me to the silent winter beauty that I only know from my window or when I walk from dwelling to car to another dwelling. I used to enjoy cross country skiing and winter walks. Maybe I will learn to enjoy them again.

Maybe we will fence our yard.

Pray for Uganda

Through a friend's blog, I learned that there is a new Ebola outbreak in Uganda.

The Ugandans need a lot of prayer support, the disease is spreading fast. If you are interested in a blog written by a Christian husband and wife doctor team in the middle of it, go to http://www.paradoxuganda.blogspot.com/ They are Drs. Scott and Jennifer Myhre of World Harvest Missions and they have prayer requests for the medical teams and for the villages affected.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Quiet Time, Part 5--What You Do

I think that there's a simple beauty to meeting with God...like a woman who needs no additional adornment except for her gentle, quiet spirit. I mean, He's everywhere you are, right? He's available 24/7. But we aren't, unfortunately. Going to Him requires we make time out of all the other stuff we have to do and/or like to do. So, what do we do when we go to Him?

I would like to make the case that it is as simple as praying for ourselves, that God would reveal Himself to us, to help us know His love for us. Then reading a passage of Scripture. Then thinking about it. Then worshipping God for what we've learned from the Scriptures. Then praying for ourselves that God will help us remember His Holy Word and live by it, in that way living out our love for Him.

That's it.

I forget that it's all that's required.

And it's beautiful to me.

I like the other things, too. Like various methods on how to meditate on God's Word. Keeping a journal (love that). Using a hymnal or a song book or a CD to deepen worship. Devotionals. Walking, running, sitting, lying face down, kneeling, listening, interceding, whispering, shouting, singing, dancing...it can be a part of the quiet time, too. And it could last a few minutes or a few hours. But at the essence, let's not forget. Pray, Read, Think, Worship, Pray, Live.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Quiet Time, Part 4--What You Get

In a lot of ways, walking with God is an adventure. You don't always know what's coming, and it exceeds expectations. And for me, it is the same for my quiet times. If I'm paying attention.

In my last post, I described my attempt at a "system" because I know my weaknesses with routine. I pursued the activity, but not God Himself. Does that mean discipline is bad? No, because through the year, God was taking me on a journey. I needed new eyes, and most seasoned travelers will tell you that one of the benefits of taking trips is seeing life, the world, God and themselves differently.

Most people expect their devotional lives to be marked with throes of ecstasy. What it is, really, is one "long obedience in the same direction." It's quite like a long walk instead of a short jog. When I used to go running, I sometimes got a surge of brain chemicals that left me feeling kind of good. They call it a "runner's high", albeit mine was a mild one. But with walking, you do get a lift from the exercise, but it won't amount to Euphoria. And it isn't really about the feelings, anyway. Even when I was depressed, God blessed me during my devotions but not in ways that I expected. I didn't feel better. Often, I didn't feel closer. Sometimes, I felt worse that when I began the quiet time. Ironically, during this episode in my life, I spent more time with more people in helping them grow. God used me in amazing ways, and when I look back, I know it didn't come from myself. I had nothing to give. And all I was, was available. To Him. And then, to others. As He saw fit to give me.

So, if you want some amazing experience of God, it will be more about what is right under your own nose, quietly waiting for you to wake up, hello!

My epiphany this year was when God told me that He is the first, the best, and the most. He is better than the baby or babies I've always wanted but never had. He is better than the perfect husband, perfect financial setting, perfect place to live, the perfect job, the perfect family,the perfect church and, the perfect ministry. Or the perfect spiritual discipline or quiet time method. Or the ultimate blogging experience.

My favorite quote came from LeRoy Eims. He was speaking at Glen Eyrie when my college group visited. We sat in the balcony, listening in on another campus group's conference. What grabbed me and has had a hold on me ever since is when Eims said, "Jesus died so that you could have a quiet time." That time with God came at high prices.

And in that regard, you get more than you would ever expect.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Quiet Time, Part 3--What You Need

I'm not a person of routine. And the whole idea of a routine in quiet time has always been a struggle. At the same time, nothing derails my daily quiet time faster than a lack of direction or a plan. So, I know that keeping a balance about quiet times is really important, and for me, preparation is key.

To know where I need to go in the future, it takes looking back to my past quiet times. What worked? What didn't? Is there a pattern in my previous quiet times or a theme that I would like to go deeper with? What is my desire in my walk with God? What do I think that He is telling me through these themes or patterns in my quiet times past? What schedule challenges or distractions do I need to overcome? Getting a few hours to analyze and plot a strategy for the next few months as well as to pray over the whole issue gives me a purpose and an intention that fuels my passion for the Lord and deepens my worship of Him.

And even if I have no answers to my questions, I still have to come up with some structure and see if it works. Sometimes, it does for a shorter time than I hoped, but at least I set out in some direction and learned something new about me and my walk despite the failure. A re-direct is not a bad thing. Having a back up plan is another strategy that helps me if I'm not sure about what I'm doing. But even the best strategies will fail if you lose sight of what you really need.

This year has been a great example of that. For instance:

A certain book I used called itself a devotional. The writers compiled a couple of really exceptional devotionals that I loved and I was excited about this one. It went through a female Bible character a week. It was fascinating, but I found myself thinking more about these women than growing closer to God. It is really a Bible study, not a devotional. I like it still but it isn't a good quiet time for me.

My plan B ended up being:

A journal that I picked up that has one short verse and a few paragraphs to help direct me to respond to God. Every week there is a theme, and this week is obedience to God. This has been more helpful, as I have Scripture to meditate on and some pages to write out prayers. But right now, I want to include something for Advent. So I will be supplementing once a week a reading from Luke's gospel.

But plan B is really plan C because:

I started out the year with another prayer journal that guided me through praying for an unreached people group per day. It helped me expand my world vision, and grow to have compassion like God does. I like it still, and I will finish it out this year, but it is only part of my walk with God, but doesn't meet my need to know God. I need more Scripture in my diet.

So, was my quiet time a bust this year? No, despite the twists and turns, I kept seeking something more that would bring me to an intimate relationship with God. When my plans failed, I kept trying. It is better than neglecting it altogether. And all this information will be considered when I make my quiet time plans for 2008.

Next year, I'm planning to work more hours and do more early morning shifts. So, I need to find a way to be consistent in my walk despite the inconsistent schedule. Last year, I "snacked" on Scripture until I had a chunk of time to meet with God during the day. The plan required I carry a Bible in my purse at all times. But it was easy to get distracted. My attention span seems to be as long as a six month old puppy's. Too much flexibility. I need more discipline.

This year, I had the time to meet consistently but had a hard time settling on how I wanted to intake the Scriptures in a meaningful way. The devotionals and prayer journals I had thought would give me some structure were disappointing and weren't helping me with what I longed for the most. It was like God was telling me that nothing takes the place of His Word, hello.

What are your special challenges? What do you need?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Quiet Time, part 2

This afternoon, I swam for 45 minutes at the "Y". It was a good workout and I pushed my limits a little more to get the heart rate up. I haven't gone swimming for a while, because of having an unshakable cold. It felt good to finally get out there and do some serious laps.

Afterwards, Dennis and I went to run errands. I was feeling hungry, since I hadn't anything to eat since my oatmeal this morning. I was also feeling tired and sore from my workout. As we drove past several restaurants, I kept thinking that I wanted to be fed. Sit down in a booth somewhere and have delicious food brought to me cooked by someone else. It would be nice. It would be effortless. The only work I had to do was lift a fork and chew.

Where did I go for dinner? We went home. I prepared Spanish rice, black beans, chicken mole and artichokes with help from Den. All items and ingredients already present in my pantry. The meal would have cost us 25 dollars or more in a restaurant, but I made it for less than four dollars. Yes, it was work. Yes, it took time. Yes, we had dishes to do. But we also had candlelight, privacy, intimacy, great conversation and our favorite classical guitar CD playing in the background. And I was able calculate the points for Weight Watchers.

Sometimes, it is good to go out. A break in the routine. A chance to experience something new. But Americans are going out to eat in record numbers, more than ever before. They are hungry, and they want someone to feed them. This kind of a lifestyle, on a daily basis, has consequences.
Going out has lost its specialness as a break in the routine. It is now a neccessity.

Our souls need to be fed, too. On what? The Bible uses several metaphors to describe how we intake God's Word:

"But He answered and said: 'Man shall not live by bread alone but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.' " Matthew 4:4

"like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord." 1 Peter 2:2-3

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and he with Me." Revelation 3:20

So, the question I have to keep asking myself is, am I willing to meet with God and spend time in His Word, dining with Him in His Word, growing in intimacy with Him? I need to study, memorize and meditate on God's Word, and meet Him for daily spiritual dining experiences as well as reading Christian books and hearing great sermons. A lot of the time, God speaks to me through all of these things together. And it is very powerful.

In the next post, I will be sharing some "cooking" principles that have helped me get started. However, they are just basics. Everyone is unique, and approach their walks with God differently. What works for me doesn't work for my husband. But I think we both have close walks with God.

And another thing, why did I decide to do this on my blog?

For one, quiet times are a passion of mine. Whenever someone shares about their devotional lives, I remember. One of the guys in college shared casually one day about his favorite verse from his morning talk with God: Proverbs 16:16--"How much better it is to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen above silver." A college student who was discipling me shared about her struggles with sexual temptation that it helped that she kept reaching for her Bible to meditate on Psalm 119. Or when I asked the wife of a famous Christian author what she did for quiet times, she replied that she liked "Streams in the Desert" by L.B. Cowman. "Streams" was a devotional written by a woman who served with her husband as a missionary in Asia in the 1920's and who took care of her husband for 6 years before he died. The wife I spoke to had cancer and did not live much longer after I spoke with her.

Then, I had an international student live with us who every morning after her shower would take her Bible out to our deck and commune with God in the summer sunshine. Or the speaker at a Christian conference who shared how while under stress in the military he would meet with God every day for months without being able to write anything in his journal--he would date every page and have to leave it blank. It was so tough to keep meeting with God during this dry time in his life, but he did.

Their stories and examples made a huge impact on me.

All of this and more stuck with me over the years. As a young Christian, it reinforced in me the importance of having this discipline in my life and I pieced together how other people approached it. When I discipled young believers, I often made it a point to meet with them and help them get started in the practice. I shared often what my quiet times were like not just with younger Christians, but with other friends. It was as much a part of my interaction within a fellowship as asking people how they're doing. Yet, these days, I don't ask people what they do for quiet times and people don't volunteer that information.

So, let's change that. If you don't want to comment on this blog how you approach a quiet time, that's fine. But when was the last time you mentioned it to a spouse or a roommate or a friend?
If you've never developed this vital discipline in your life, who can you turn to for help?

It matters.