Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pressing On



Yesterday, I was on the treadmill and was encouraged that I walked a mile and a half. Today, it will be a swim. I've held back on the walking for a few years, but it looks like I can get on the treadmill three or four times a week.

Happy Birthday to me!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Senior Moment

The last few hours, I've been processing some things I never knew before. It is good to keep learning and exploring, to know that I don't know it all. And I'm meditating on that as well. A person could think that she "has arrived" just because she is almost a half century old (especially if she spends a lot of time with younger people--pride and stubborness sets in). It's worse, actually, since now you know better there are no more excuses. How sobering is that?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Summer is for Reading


I actually love to read outdoors. My favorite thing to do on a Michigan summer's day is to grab a folding camp chair, spray on bug repellent, put on a hat and some sunblock and find a scenic place to read.

Here's what's on my schedule so far:
"The Beauty of God's Holiness" by Thomas L. Trevethan
We've been reading "The Pursuit of Holiness" by Jerry Bridges this spring in our small group, and I when I found this in our church library, I wondered if it would supplement my reading.

An excerpt:
"When a sense of God's holiness is bright and clear, joyful worship flourishes. When a sense of the holiness of the Lord declines or is lost, on the other hand, worship becomes drudgery, and it too declines. It is trivialized into entertainment...."

"The Valley of Vision" edited by Arthur Bennett
I like poetry a lot, but it is hard to find well-written and theologically accurate prose that doesn't sound trite or cutesy.

A sample:

"Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision...."

"Summer on Blossom Street" by Debbie Macomber
Fiction that I will devour in two days, perfect for a weekend read. It's going up north with me on Saturday. "Blossom Street" is about a Seattle yarn shop owner and her husband, Lydia and Brad, who unexpectedly become foster parents to 12 year old Casey.

"I was of two minds, but compassion won out. It wouldn't be an easy adjustment for any of us. Casey wasn't going to make this pleasant. However, I'd seen that glimmer of a smile in the young girl's eyes..."

"Quaker Summer" by Lisa Samson

Another novel about summer to be read on a beach somewhere. This one is about a young mother and wife, Heather, who has "everything" and feels empty inside yet through her relationship with two elderly Quaker sisters and an old nun at a homeless shelter, she gains a different perspective and comes to a "crossroads".

The following is from a passage where Heather visits an elderly farmer and family friend, Jolly, who recently was widowed from his wife after 50 years of marriage:

"I want to hug him to me, but I can't make Jolly a project. Like I need one more thing to do. But I do enjoy sitting with him. How could a person not? Jolly is like your favorite chair. His 1930's existence makes my soul yearn: tending his garden, talking to the boys down at the old store on Jarrettsville Pike, the last vestige of Loch Raven in the old days before people like us began buying up the place. It seems like people in my parents' generation knew how to keep from overloading themselves. Or maybe they just didn't complain about it like we do. Haven't figured out which."

What are you reading?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Confessions of a Hippie-Wanna-Be

When I was in high school, I told my parents that I wanted to be an artist. As a fifteen year old, I had no idea what being an artist meant. All I knew was that I enjoyed art and aspired to live a creative life. My parents were not artists, but they had some idea what kind of life it would involve. They knew that artists lived for their art and died for it. It would involve a single minded intensity that dwarfed all other aspects of life. It frightened them I think, because I had the personality that could be very, very focused. My absorption into my interests was borderline fanatical.

So, they painted a picture of the sacrifices involved. Was I willing to literally starve for my art? Was I willing to put everything aside to buy the materials for my masterpieces? And after that, I may not be recognized as great until after I died and until then, most people would reject my work. They gave it their best shot, but it didn't seem to bother me. I was naive and impractical, and I thought I cared nothing for fame, fortune or even security. So they tried another angle.

I might be talented, but the truly great artists were beyond talented. They were geniuses and took their abilities to a higher level than ever imagined before. How could I think that I would ever compare to them? Frankly, my doodlings and attempts showed that I had improved over the years but it was hard to see any originality or cutting edge vision. At this, I had to agree. I was no Michaelangelo or Raphael. But I would have liked to see how far I could go with the right training and influences. So, I might not be as brilliant as Van Gogh, but maybe I could be. I would have to try to see. I might not be an Artist, but perhaps my art could lead me to something interesting.

My parents finally came to the arguement that I was still young and I had many opportunities to develop and grow. I was good at art but, I was so much more than that. I had other interests and abilities that I had not dared to explore because art took so much of my time. I responded that I wasn't good at anything else. My father countered back that I did not know that because I never really tried anything else. At this I was speechless. I was smart enough to know that becoming an artist because it was the only thing I believed I was good at would lead me to a lot of frustration because I placed all my self worth in one thing. My goals in art were about what it did for me, not because I had a passion and a love for it.

Then my parents shared that they wanted the best for me, that they were afraid that I would miss out on a lot of life if I maintained such a one track mindset. Their highest ambition for me was an ordinary life, to enjoy a good marriage and have children and a career that I enjoyed. Although it was hard at that age to envision me having a life like that (strangely, it was easier envisioning myself as something much more radical), I trusted my parent's wishes that I would be loved and secure. And balanced. All of which set me into a totally different trajectory in life.

So, I took other classes which led me to find out that I was good at a variety of things. I graduated from high school (1980) and went on to win a scholarship to study pharmacy in college. While looking at art in the university museum as a freshman, I realized that I did not miss being an artist and was certain that art did not miss me back. There was another much worthier purpose that I could invest my passions towards, a Person who was more magnificent than all the art in the world.

Hebrews 11:6

There has been a number that rolls around my head--it's been rolling all year long. Forty-seven. I'm turning 47 in a few days. I don't keep track so much of my age--in my 30's I had to stop and count it out because I literally forgot (I was content with 30-something). But into my 40's, every year makes a difference to me. And now I'm closer to 50, I can almost smell it.

That's half a century.

So what does almost 47 feel like? It feels so amazing that I am at a loss for words. I spend time with younger friends and I am aware that I am different than them but it is hard to define in what way. I always share stories about my past with them, but now I'm in awe with those stories. I am an ordinary woman, but through all the joys and sorrows that life brings, I know some things. Having experiences is one thing, but not everyone contemplates them. And those who do don't always articulate them.

In the past when I gave my narrative, it was as though I was talking about someone else. But now I actually own my history. And God has been with me every step of the way--He is good.
And He is real. He is the Creator of me and the Author of my faith as well as my story.

That's what I know.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Pool Politics


The pool has been busy lately. It doesn't seem to matter what time I show up, I share a lane with a fellow lap swimmer. I recognize most of them, and have swam with some of them more than once. But I prefer my own lane. On the occasion I have my own lane, the selfishness comes out the minute I see a new swimmer approaching and trying to decide where to swim. If it is a woman, especially one I have already chatted with, it doesn't matter. The male regular lap swimmers are another story. But I don't turn them down if they ask. I just cut my work out short and call it a day. Better that than get kicked or have to hug the buoys to stay on my side.


Today, I had an hour and had to swim with two men (not at the same time). Neither of them swam like normal people. The first gent would start out with a breast stroke and then midway switch to a side-stroke or a crawl. It made it hard for me to time when I should begin my lap or predict how to pause just enough to let him slide past me without hitting each other. And he was a lane hog. I literally was bumping my nose up against the lane divider.


After he left, I had a lane to myself for awhile until one of the swim instructors asked me to give up my lane for her swim class (really, the class schedule was supposed to be posted so I could know how many lanes were available) and share with the guy to my right. I knew him and had to share with him before, and I knew it would be unorthodox but at least he was predictable. He didn't do flip turns (neither do I) but he had a system where he would push off the wall of the pool and swim underwater, then surface, stand up walk two steps and then begin his lap. Whenever I see him do this, it strikes me as cheating by shaving off several feet every lap. How could he even say he actually swam a mile when part of the time he floated and waded? And yeah, he's faster but anyone would be if they didn't swim the whole lap.


I finished a little over a half mile and headed to the showers. I wasn't done yet--I felt like I could swim a lot more but I had enough of the clowns I had to swim with. I kept my suit on as I washed my hair and then remembered that Dennis had said he might head to the hot tub, so I went back to the pool to check to see if he was there. He wasn't. Nobody was. All the lanes were empty. It was so tempting to put my cap and goggles back on and jump back in. However, I told my husband I would be done in an hour, and I had a lot to do today. Aarggh.


I checked the time. It was 12:30 on a Saturday. It is always busy around this time on this day of the week. I usually avoid Saturdays at the pool like the plague. And I pushed and pushed Hubs out the door because I wanted to avoid the afternoon weekend crowd. We arrived at 11:30, which is an hour later than I wanted, only to find every lane had two swimmers in it as it has been the fifth day in a row when I tried to get the non-peak pool time and find myself wrong yet again.


Sometimes I handle this badly and other times I handle it well. A few days ago, I was so dismayed to see that I would have to wait almost a million years before I would even get to share a lane. Lap swimmers are notoriously in the water for nothing less than an hour, and some go way longer than that. So, I sat on the sidelines, feeling like I got left out at the school dance. What was worse, I walked up to one woman to ask if I could share her lane and I turned around for one second to put my earplugs in and some lout jumped in and took the place I requested. What the...!! So, I went to the sidelines to feel sorry for myself again.


After sitting in the water for a few minutes, I decided that my bad attitude wasn't worth it and that I had to change it. I did not want to make an unnecessary fuss and the only person I was hurting with my anger was myself. So I took a chill pill and just waited. Amazingly, I didn't have to wait long. The lady I wanted to share with quit and was coming over to use the ladder to get out. I asked her how her swim was, and that question launched into a chat about how often she swam and how many years (she was in really good shape for 63 and had been swimming regularly for 20 years), and a few questions about how she was able to keep her rhythm, breathe, etc... And in the midst of our chat, another guy came out and took her empty place in the lane that I was coveting. I decided that I was there to have a good time and that my type A personality was going to have to get used to it, and talking with this expert lady swimmer was worth waiting a little longer.


We finished talking after only ten more minutes and by that time, a spot next to a little Asian lady opened up and she was a better lane partner--sometimes I didn't even know we passed each other, she slipped right by without a splash or a ripple. Our paces matched and she didn't take up any room and she didn't do any weird manuevers before or after or during her laps. And thanks to her flourescent pink goggles and swim cap, I could see her coming a mile away. Waiting does have its rewards.


Because of the economy, there are a lot of people not working and filling their time by going to the pool. I am going to have to get used to it. Or have the lifegaurd text me when a lane is ready for me. But I don't think that will happen. I will just have to wait.






Friday, June 12, 2009

Eat, Pray, Love

Yesterday, I visited a woman from Sri Lanka in her home. She is a friend from my English as a Second Language class who loves to cook for her family. She is a beginning speaker and I don't know any Singhelese, her native language. But somehow, we communicate. We draw pictures, we pantamime, and we enlist the translation services of her elementary school age sons.

So far, I taught her how to make pizza and she taught me how to make tandoori chicken with her home-made curry. I want to take her somewhere and pick fresh blueberries and show her how to make blueberry muffins. I still want her to teach me more about her country's cuisine. There is a dried fish that she showed me in her refridgerator that intrigues me. I don't think we will enter into deep spiritual discussions anytime soon. But I pray that God would use our culinary exchanges for his glory.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Homegrown


One of the things I appreciate about my church, University Reformed Church, in East Lansing, MI is the pastoral internship program for men who are planning to enter ministry full time. This past year, Neil Quinn and Ryan Potter were the interns. Neil and Ryan gave amazing sermons a month ago, and I invite you to take a listen to "A Life of Expectant Waiting".


My favorite: "Who saves us from the wrath of God? God!"


Sunday, June 07, 2009

Thealogy

When I was young, I daydreamed constantly. I seemed lost in thought, but my inner life was less about thinking and more about imagination. I was less apt to solve a problem and more likely to fantasize about slaying dragons. Or taming them (my ideal pet). In high school, I was always tapping into that creative side for a story. In college, my creative side got squeezed out of existence gradually. It was too distracting and I needed to graduate. Now, I don't know how to even begin to tell a story. I've been hoping that blogging would tease that aptitude out of me somehow, but I am afraid that it isn't working.

Yet before it all disappeared, a college friend assumed that I was some kind of thinker--always in meditation. He assumed that I was thinking big important theological thoughts, but actually I was in my own little world as Queen Thea, Empress of the Far Side of Some Galaxy. When life seemed scary and out of control, there was a place mentally I could go to where it all made sense. So when my friend re-named me "Thea-logical" I could not protest against that, because it was ironically true. My inner life was definately about Thea, even though my friend's play on words meant to indicate I thought much about God, as theology is about the study of God. Instead of laughing along, I felt guilty as charged. The friend was too busy congratulating himself on his cleverness instead of seeing my discomfort with an uncomfortable truth.

Life is still scary and out of control. But instead of running to Thea land, I've learned that theology is actually my best friend. There is still a place for an active imagination, but it goes nowhere if all it contributes is an escape from reality. My pastor has a blog post that explains very well how we all are theologians. My question is if I am a very good one.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Some More Thoughts on Marriage


A few days ago, my hubby and I had an arguement. It was a foolish thing, but sometimes it happens. But we discovered something. It was actually kind of funny that we were pointing fingers at each other over the very same sins and weaknesses we were guilty of ourselves. After thinking about it for awhile, I came to the conclusion that the inevitable had finally arrived. We have been married nearly 20 years and now we're starting to resemble each other. I've heard about this, that couples start looking and acting like each other over a certain amount of time. (LeRoy Eims uses this tendency as an illustration for spending time in the Bible--the more we cultivate regular times of reading Scripture and praying, the more God transforms our hearts and minds).


And I've taken a good look over the years at couples who are heading towards that great retirement center in the sky, or have been with each other at least a quarter of a century. It's true. They dress, talk, walk, act and look alike. Who had the greater influence over the other is a toss up. And now, it's finally happening to us. It isn't as obvious or external as other couples we've known--but it's there.


In the beginning we were distinctly different in personality and in interests. It would have been difficult to see what drew us together in the first place, and we fit the adage "opposites attract" very well. If you know us, it isn't hard to see. You would also notice that Dennis and I both share an enthusiasm for loving people and sharing the Gospel and it was this that we found attractive from the beginning. Although it was often hard to understand each other at times, being with each other was comforting nonetheless. We learned that accepting each other as Christ accepted ourselves, was a key to discovering more about ourselves and each other.

We will always remain individuals. In some respects, we always had that in common--headstrong and opinionated. Yet, we could always count on the other to be the missing link. Dennis needed an organized woman who can keep track of details. I needed a husband with a certain amount of energy to move me onward. That was the refreshing thing that made our lives much easier in the beginning years of marriage. However, after a certain amount of time, you over depend on each other as well as try to control--Dennis didn't discipline himself on details because he didn't have to and I got tired of being the go-to girl. I didn't work on my phlegmatic laziness, and Dennis got tired of trying to motivate me. This leads to an inner strain of resentment and feeling taken for granted.


So, we crashed like this for a few years, and it was a revelation to us that oneness in marriage never meant taking advantage of each other to do what we are supposed to do on our own. And we appreciate each other more when we function as adults, not selfish children, thinking of only our own interests and feelings. Love, we found, is about giving in big and small ways to each other, and Christ is our model of that kind of love in how he laid down his life for others. The Gospel isn't just for sharing, it is also meant to be lived by.

So, in taking responsibility for ourselves, we began to reach a certain level of alikeness, it appears. I picked up my pace and got motivated, even though on occasion I'll let Dennis try to give me a pep talk for old times' sake (I miss those sometimes) and Dennis has some form or method of organizing, not what I'd do, but it works for him. So, peace had arrived at one time or another as each of us endeavored to carry our own burden. This is a good thing. We are actually growing closer this way.

We now have something else in common--blindspots. This can't be a good thing. But we'll work on it. I have now come to a conclusion that conflict is not a bad thing, but a catalyst for change for the better in a relationship.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Morning Has Broken

This has been a really good morning--with sunshine, birdsong and Bible. And it is ending all too quickly. My quiet time was an extra long one reviewing bible study verses and sermon notes. We attend small group on alternate Monday nights discussing Jerry Bridges' "Pursuit of Holiness" which seems to tie in well with the messages on Sunday mornings on Leviticus. I've read "Pursuit" a couple of times, but it seems to really resonate right now in my heart. Funny how that happens. It's like I've never read it before.

A quote for you:

"Faith is not only necessary to salvation, it is also necessary to live a life pleasing to God. Faith enables us to claim the promises of God--but it also enables us to obey the commands of God. Faith enables us to obey when obedience is costly or seems unreasonable to the natural mind."
---Jerry Bridges, "Pursuit of Holiness" page 140