Sunday, November 30, 2008

Saving Grace--song by Bob Dylan

On Sundays when I was a kid, I'd listen to the gospel programs on television not because I was interested but just because they'd be the only thing on in the late afternoon until Buck Owens appeared after dinner. If I had read everything I had to read and the weather was horrible outside, this was the only distraction available from the rumbling in my stomach.

I never understood the preaching, nor saw the appeal in it, but the music was easier to fathom but only to a point. The men and women who sang with glowing faces and bright eyes weren't singing about falling in love but about spiritual things that escaped me. Why were they so happy and what does God have to do with anything?

After awhile, the seemingly bright and cheerful gospel songs performed by perfect looking people in dreamily decorated sound stages from the 1960's annoyed me than drew me in. Anything with that twang, even Buck Owens, was more than I could handle. The sentiment and the staging became fake to me, and the impression turned me off cold towards gospel music. However, some of the '70's contemporary songs I learned in catechism actually began to mean something as I learned the simple lyrics along with the simple melodies. No twang. A few came from musicals like Godspeed and Jesus Christ Superstar. Cool.

And then the 80's came along with Christian rock and pop styles. By then, I became a believer and was listening to Micheal W. Smith and Amy Grant in my Walkman. Things had sure changed. Meanwhile, I was learning old fashioned hymns from church and from fellowships--nothing Grant or Smith did could match up with them. Eventually, I memorized a lot of them, preferring to sing hymns than listen on my Walkman. I used them in my quiet times and internalized the truths within them about God and His character. Honestly, I can't remember much from the contemporary Christian pop or rock music really making that deep of an impression on me. There wasn't much to think about, except for a few exceptions.

I remember friends getting me to listen to Bob Dylan's gospel music. It was new and old at the same time, I was thinking as the borrowed tapes copied from albums played over my headphones. Dylan was different but I couldn't figure out how. He almost reminded me of the old gospel programs on television in the 60's, mixed with the intelligence of the Psalms of the Bible and the depth of the hymns. As quickly as I was introduced to his music, it quickly disappeared. I couldn't find it in the record store nor the Christian bookstore. It seemed as though no one--secular or inspired--liked him at all.

As Christian music sought to merge with mainstream culture, Dylan made a huge departure from pop and rock. The content and the style of his spiritual music is distinctively gospel. He made Christian music that was timeless, and from what I saw, believable. He did not, like some singers of the genre, back away from clear proclaimations about Jesus and salvation. And he got me thinking about who I was serving, how Jesus' return and judgement was like a slow train coming, how all the animals were named, and what I could do for Him.

None of these songs were thrown together, using Jesus as an afterthought. The songs are masterpieces in their own right, crafted so that word and music blended together as one, like mercy kissing truth, with the weight of poetic artistry. A lot of love for this genre made it possible, and I believe, much love for God as well.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


It is over. It was crazy. It was fun. It was great. But it is over.

I feel sad about that. One day of a full house, food and cross cultural community is not enough. I want to do this again, often.

I also learned a lot. About other cultures. About myself. About hospitality. About God.

I've spent a few hours quietly thinking about these lessons. Some things went well that day. Some did not, but it wasn't a big deal.

We spent three days getting ready, but we had cleaned up, with a student's help, within an hour. And then spent the evening relaxing together watching a DVD. It was hard to tell that thirty adults and four five-year old girls and an almost one-year old boy were here for five hours, sharing stories, reading books, playing games and eating food. That the tiny kitchen didn't just cook a dozen American traditional dishes but also Chinese dumplings.

And how was God glorified in this? I'm full of memories of walking by quiet conversations about Jesus in English and other languages, of believers and non-believers sharing what they are thankful to God for after hearing a message from the Bible that God is the source of those blessings, of coffee table books with beautiful photography about the Art of God, Jesus and Compassion International being opened and talked about, of four year old girls of the same age having fun although they are of different nationalities, watching family movies from China and South Korea...among many others.

Before the party, Dennis and I prayed together. We realized that even though cash is tight right now for us, we are rich people. Rich in Christ.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Weight

It's snowing outside.

I want a roaring fire, a comfy chair, an afghan and my Bible, with hours to read, pray and meditate. But right now, all I can think of is a hundred things I need to do to get ready for Thanksgiving. And then the holiday beyond. It will be all good times. But in a way, I can't wait for it all to be over.

Under the weight, I feel weak. I'm looking for the promise fulfilled that "in quietness you will find strength". So, I will quiet my heart, my mind and my soul. I will not have all the hours I want to read my Bible, but I will have a few. And then begin to chip away at the long to do list.

It isn't the to do list that is bothering me, anyway.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Land of the Free

During the last 10 years, inevitably once in awhile I would be serving a customer who announces that they are from Seattle or Washington state, as though they are a special class of Starbuckian customer. If you are from these places, whatever you do when you are in Starbucks of "lesser" states, like say, Michigan, don't do this. It's embarrassing and unneccessary.

If I get a friendly vibe, though, I might mention that I'm from the Pac NW, too. But only if I'm hungry to touch base with a fellow Washingtonian or Pac NW person and talk Seattle talk with a "homie". You know, like, "hey, is the Ave still crazy like I remember it?" or " Did they finally finish the Burke-Gilman trail?".

Yesterday, a member of my Seattle "tribe" really embarrassed me. A partner was taking orders in the drive-through (DT), and tried to help an older person with an easier way to order a skinny latte. The customer yelled back at him that he was from Seattle and didn't need any lectures in how to talk Starbucks. And spent a good long minute being mean on the subject. All on a young man who was just trying to help, which is part of his job. I took over the DT and met the person at the window, who immediately told me he was from Seattle and was a regular at Pike Place, where Starbucks started.

At this point, it's hard to know what to do. Ten years of doing this job has shown me that angry people are not interested in listening, and are looking for a fight. He would be not receptive to hear any defense or explanation in his frame of mind, which seemed irrational to me. A few blogs ago, I talked about how the downturn in economical news has affected the general public, older retired people in particular. And how they take out their frustration on innocent by-standers, like your local Starbucks barista who gets paid peanuts.

I decided to not give the man the satisfaction of an arguement. His drink was free, which he did not deserve. I then told him that I used to live in Wallingford, and learned about Starbucks 23 years ago in the U-District. I wasn't my characteristic friendly self, but kept calm and neutral. My posture was upright, my arms folded, my smile gone. I did my best to look intimidating, as though I was looking down at a bug. He changed his tone with me from mean to grudging respect. I then told him I "understood", which is my way of saying "yeah, I get you all right". He tipped me a buck, I guess for my "understanding". He looked a little guilty as he handed it to me, it was his way of saying he was sorry. But I wasn't apologizing. No way.

The phenomenon of Washington state expatriots feeling entitled to special attention at a Starbucks really perturbs me. For all the Starbucks I've visited all over the nation, not once did I feel compelled to boast about my origin as though I was personally responsible for Boeing, Starbucks and Microsoft all rolled into one. The success of those companies do not reflect on me. But my manners would. So, if you are a fellow "homie" from the land of Starbucks, please pass this along to the rest of the state, Seattle in particular: The rest of the U.S. of A. is not impressed with you. Be nice, sip your delicious custom-made six descriptor latte and tip well. Thank you for your understanding.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Me and My Stuff

Thanksgiving is almost here...I have less than a week to get ready. We will have a house full of people to join us in giving thanks, mostly international friends from our church's ESL program. The cooking starts in a few days, and then it's time to start preparations for Christmas and New Year's. Hospitality is a non stop endeavor.

Today, I organized my pantry, kitchen cupboards and the storage shelves of canned goods in the laundry room to get ready for holiday baking and cooking. I found a few items way beyond their expiration dates, and a few others that had none but had gone bad when I checked for quality. The only way to see if the crackers were still good was to taste them, and unfortunately, there is very little worse than a rancid cracker taste lingering in your mouth. I found a can of pumpkin without it's label, so I opened it to see if it was okay. I wasn't sure, so out it went. The hardest loss was the jar of minced garlic--it was never opened even though it expired a month ago. I opened it to examine the contents, there was a breach in the seal which meant there could be spoilage.

I followed the example of my mom who made sure that the pantry was always stocked, but often had food sitting there unused for 10 years. The same for Grandma. I've cut back on that, but habits die hard. My larder is getting smaller, and even Dennis noticed and suggested that we do some shopping. I think not. In the effort to try to save money, money is wasted if you never use it.

I made a bean soup today using veggies in the fridge that were getting old but still fresh enough to eat as well as some dried herbs in the same condition. It felt good to look at storage and refrigerator spaces not stuffed to the gills. I have been working towards that through out the whole house. It's not something I am used to. I prune and de-clutter only to see that I have only touched the tip of the iceberg.

Right now, although I have gotten rid of a lot of clothes in my closet, I have way more skirts than I actually wear. I love skirts. I also love books, and it shows since I have more than I know what to do with. But I gotta ask, why hang onto all this abundance? And don't think I haven't been tempted to buy more skirts, although I have held back from the compulsion. Books, well, I got to work on that...library cards help a lot.

I don't wear the skirts because they aren't practical in Michigan where winter lasts most of the year. And in the off winter months, I'm not dressing up that much because I got out of the habit. I got to the point where I pulled them all out of the closet and asked myself what would help them be wearable. It amounted to tights and boots, and coordinating sweaters. I buy sweaters for wearing with jeans, never give the skirts a thought. The boot factor is that my current dress boots are not made to deal with ice and snow. They are made to look pretty and not much else. I bought them when I lived in non snow places.

How important are the right shoes in Michigan? Last night, we went to the movies and when we were walking out to the car in the parking lot, I was slipping all over the place--when we got to the theater, there was no ice, but after a few hours, the temps fell and I had a dilemma because I chose shoes for looks and comfort, not for weather conditions. Funny, since I wore the appropriate coat and hat and gloves for freezing temperatures.

I am re-reading "God and Your Stuff" by Wesley K. Willmer. It is convicting. In Chapter One, Willmer starts with this:

"While few Christians seem to take seriously what they do with their possessions or stuff, Scripture makes it clear in Romans 14:12 and 2 Corinthians 5:10 that we are all to give an account of our lives to God at the end of our earthly existence. We will be asked about how we used our money and possessions such as:
-Where did it all go?
-What did you spend it on?
-What was accomplished for eternity with all the things God entrusted to you here on earth?

Scripture further points out that God has entrusted us with His possessions as a test while on earth to determine the status of our soul in heaven (see Luke 16:1-9). As a result of this test, God is able to determine our spiritual maturity, and the character or condition of our soul for eternity. These are all serious issues of the Christian life."

Some of the reasons I haven't shifted from non snow dress boots to snow ready dress boots are along the lines of not wanting to spend money on vanity. Wearing pants and jeans to nearly all events like a winter uniform of sorts and giving up feeling feminine while the snow falls and the ice freezes is one of the reasons I have a hard time with winter. It took six years to figure it out. And give myself permission to go ahead and buy the items I want. As long as I understand that it isn't my priority, my reason to live or my purpose.

But it is interesting that it takes thinking about my possessions and my management of them to plan and organize in order to be free of them. Once I get the appropriate boots, then every time I open my closet door I won't be thinking about them and resentful that I haven't worn a skirt since I don't know when. Freedom from preoccupation of material things takes actually thinking about them so that I can stop thinking about them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

It is what it is...

In high school, I took a creative writing class. We learned about the process of writing different forms of poetry and short fiction. This was about 30 years ago, but it made a big impact on my life. Not just that I had more stories in my imagination than I thought, but that the stories were as good as they were. In one way or another, each of the main protagonists were some manifestation of me. In some way or another, each of the conflicts they dealt with were my own. Their wishes, longings and struggles were the same as mine. I never got published (outside of school publications) but I sure learned a lot about myself. I understand when I hear that a writer writes because he has to.

In my stories, I had a great affection for the kids I wrote about. My favorite was James, the rebellious, spoiled sixteen year old nephew from the city packed off by his desperate and frustrated parents to the mountains where his Aunt Carolina worked as a biologist. Next was the shy middle school aged pack rat geek with a secret crush on the popular new boy in town that she wrote 1104 observations about in her journal. When her over stuffed locker finally explodes, her whole life is strewn all over the hall way and trampled on by indifferent students passing by. Yet, it is a happy accident when the boy stops to help her pick up the mess and they find that they actually have a lot in common ("You have a bug collection? Cool!") Miss Geek finds out that she learned more in five minutes of personal interaction than she did during months of diligent surveillance. And then there were the 12 year old neighbor kids, Billy and Mandy, meeting each other for the first time and hating each other at first, but still curious enough about the other to get past that to become friends.

I wrote poems about my experiences in the woods, in Hawaii, collecting seashells, King's Lake, snow, hearing music, playing music, friends, boxed up feelings and living in arid Eastern Washington. The usual. Nothing particularly fascinating. But when I read them, it brings me back to a place and time in my life. In technicolor. Although it was harder work than writing stories, with less payback for me creatively, I am glad I wrote them for nothing other than my own benefit. I re-live those moments while on a hike, watching a bird of prey fly, feeling the spray of joyful waves hitting the rocks on the beach, being in a canoe in the middle of a lake at night with a full moon, sitting alone in the music room listening to Doug play trumpet on an empty and dark stage after school.Poetry is life concentrate.

I didn't take a lot of pictures of stuff, cameras frustrated me. But I have these words--pages and pages of them--that captured my life, which was what it was.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What's On My Mind

Not much lately...too busy to sit around and contemplate very much these days. Too busy to even see Dylan in Kalamazoo a few nights ago! He's happy because Obama is the new president, and so his performances are a little more energized these days, which is something to see. I've been working on discipline in my life, and so there have been some changes.

Discipline and consistency have not been my strengths. It's one of the reasons my weight fluctuates, going up and down (lately, down). Throughout my life, I've resisted routines in anything. But in order to deal with diabetes, routine is essential.

When first diagnosed, I was scared, shocked and hard on myself. Then, I swung from one extreme of over vigilance to the other of denial. I've had some hard chain reaction types of health issues this summer because I lost focus on some small daily checks that could have saved me some trouble. For instance, if you have diabetes, you have to aggressively deal with any problems that come up with your feet and quickly.

Getting through that and all the complications, I realized that I have to believe God wants me to learn something from all this. That it is possible that He loves me and still let me have diabetes. For awhile, I wondered. For awhile, I was angry. And finally, I realized that this was a gift. Without the gift of diabetes, I would not have learned to develop discipline of self care. I would probably have continued with my unhealthy co-dependent tendency of taking care of everyone else but myself.

I am taking a cardio and strength training class three times a week. This is the third week and I wanted to quit because my knees are feeling like they are about to blow out. But I got up this morning and went to class early to talk to Lisa, my class instructor about it. She showed me some things to help me out and checked on me during the class to make sure my form was not hurting my knees. I didn't want to drop the class--I feel as though I've gotten a lot out of it--and it didn't occur until my quiet time prayer yesterday that maybe I need to ask for help. That I need to take care of my knees by asking for advice--something that I wouldn't ordinarily do because speaking up is not something you believe you can do when you are dysfunctional.

A co-worker expressed that she was jealous because I was working out, but I told her it took getting diabetes for me to finally do it. I really don't want to take drugs with crazy side effects. I really don't want my kidneys or heart or any other essential body part to give me a bad time. All I want is to serve and love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength--strong kidneys, strong arms, strong feet, strong eyes, strong circulatory long as He enables long as I do my best to take care of temple He dwells in.