Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Holiday Juxtaposition

I'm listening to "Must Be Santa" a sample of Bob Dylan's "Christmas in the Heart" charity album. All proceeds go to Feeding America.

The record has been getting mixed reviews, mostly bad.

But I am listening to the cut, and trying to forget who's singing. I can't, because that voice is so distinctively raw. The music is a fast paced polka, and excuse me, jolly. The kind of song that would put me in a festive holiday mood. Or give me a push down nostalgia lane of good Christmases past. Not what Dylan is known for, and it is the weirdest juxtaposition. He sounds as though he is really having a good time in the studio.

And why not? Why can't I enjoy this aspect of the holiday as well? There is something kind of radical in this endeavor, and I can't put my finger on it. It's as if Dylan is saying Christmas is for everyone to enjoy and celebrate. He's invited himself to the party, thank you very much. And he wants us to stop hovering around the door and come in, too.

Dylan once said that all his songs are protest songs. And here, he isn't protesting against Santa, but against all us Scrooges. And against the feeling that since we are in economic bad times that we can't all have fun. This is what holidays like this are for. A little relief from the struggle, a break to relax and enjoy and to give to others a chance for a nice turkey dinner and bond over a full dinner table.

Wake up, America. We need music like this right now. And I love the fact that Dylan is doing it to help out, when food pantries and charities are finding the need overwhelming. I have a feeling he is meeting several issues head on at once. And these are just a few.

I'm buying my copy after Halloween. Here's a link to listen to "Must Be Santa".

Grateful Dead

When I was in junior high school, one of my classmates told me she heard a song with my name in it on the radio. She didn't know who it was, but she thought it was a cool song. I had never even met anyone with my name, so it was amazing that there was someone out there singing a song about an Althea.

Years later, I heard from one of my co-workers at Starbucks that the song "Althea" was by the Grateful Dead. He even brought in sheet music that he downloaded from his computer, printed it up, and sang it for me, acapella, at work.

If I'm being a little self indulgent, please excuse me. I like the song, and not because of the name. Well, maybe a little.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Gift from God

Yesterday, I was engulfed in a panic attack in my sleep. I woke up feeling terrified of I didn't know what, but it felt real. I asked my husband to rub my back while I prayed that whatever was causing my intense emotion would dispel because of the reality of Christ's grace and strength. And I fell back to sleep. I don't have nightmares, if I have bad dreams, my brain does a lot of amazing gymnastics to resolve the scarey scenarios. Whatever it was, it disappeared and I woke up in the morning feeling apprehensive. It wasn't a good start to what I knew was going to be a long day.

I got to work early and sat for a few minutes in my car praying for grace and strength to do my job. My work has shown me how weak and prideful I can be, that I need to be still and know that God is God, so that I know who I am and who I am not. So, if I do anything right, I know to Whom I should give credit.

At one point, a customer expressed his impatience at having to wait 10 minutes for his drink. I had been on a lunch during what normally is a slower time of the day for customers, but when I got back, the drive through and the front counter were backed up with a lot of drinks at the espresso bar waiting to be made, so I jumped in to make them.

When in a rush, or business surge, I have to make some decisions to prioritize. I get the drinks that go in the drive through out of the way and then I start working on the drinks for customers waiting inside the store. I was moving pretty quickly and I was organized in my approach. Drink orders continued to pour in, but getting filled in a reasonable amount of time.

One cup was written with quick scrawl as a "venti nonfat no-foam no-water yadda-yadda something seven-pump chai". Since I wasn't there when the order was taken and everyone was really busy, I decided to wait to ask for a translation of the chai modifier I couldn't read and moved on to the next drink. In a few seconds, I realized no one had a moment to help me so I had to help myself.

I finally decided that the chai was supposed to be 195 degrees, which is almost boiling and has to be carefully made or the milk would boil over or get too foamy. It's a pain in the ass sort of drink that you have to drop everything to focus on and when I got to the point that I was ready to focus on it, the customer came up to me and asked me why he had to wait so long and then rambled on and on about how incompetent we were and accused me of sitting in the backroom while only two people were serving customers.

When he was hurling his insults at me in a tone of voice that was more lecturing than angry but angry nonetheless, I quietly apologized and told him I was working on his drink at that minute and it would be finished very soon. My supervisor explained that we were understaffed. Then my store manager who was nearby soberly explained that there were some emergencies and someone had to go see a doctor, then the customer apologized for his rude behavior. Yes, thank you, I replied, it's been very tough. I didn't say that before I walked out to help out on the floor, a dear co-worker was in deep pain and anguish. it wasn't necessary, since I saw tears well up in the customer's eyes.

The Bible says that a gentle answer turns away wrath. I think that it works, if you can manage it. The trick is, it can't be done in our own strength. In my own strength, I would have given that selfish, impatient jerk what he deserved. But instead, he was shamed into admitting he was in the wrong, which is a lot more satisfying. I have a feeling that man isn't used to saying stuff even remotely expressing humility. That was a gift from God.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fear Not

I am learning that there are times that nothing makes sense to me, and when I need something to be logical the most, it might not be there. I have to trust that it's okay to let it go for the moment, even if it seems important right then.

I had that kind of day today. I don't know what is in other people's minds or why they think the way that they do, and I may never know. But I'm not responsible for them or what they are thinking. It's not my job to know. Even if it someone who is in authority over me, and whose decisions make or break my day or my life. Sometimes, I don't have the control in that department, but then neither is it my responsibility then either.

However, I did find out something really spectacular in the meantime. That God does work on behalf of the powerless. He does hear the cry of the oppressed, even if it is for a moment of oppression. It was a pretty neat way that He revealed that to me, bringing the reality of His just character to my awareness. And I can trust in Him to ultimately right the wrongs if not in this life, but in the next, where we all give an account for what we were responsible for. His word is true.

"Fear not, for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand..." Isaiah 41:10

And what specifically happened is my own private story, but I tell you, it is one I will treasure forever. I invited the Lord into a particular area of my life that I often leave Him out of. And it made a difference in a mighty way not in my circumstances or the cards that have been dealt to me, but in the most significant way possible: my heart.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Over and Whelmed

An old friend asks in his blog post "Overwhelmed" if anyone else out there is feeling like he is after sharing honestly about how busy he is and how it is affecting him. And to answer him, I've decided to respond in blog form.

Yes, I know how it is. I've had to work too hard, get little sleep and have to clean and maintain my house as well as fulfill some well thought out and carefully chosen responsibilities at church, as well as invest in personal relationships. I've described it as juggling myself to death--either I drop a few balls or they drive me into an emotional or physical breakdown. It's been a long time, though, since I let that happen.

I would operate in a "go, go, go and stop, stop, stop" pattern which would involve constant activity until I got too exhausted or sick to function. When I began to see this after a few years of living this way, it was the real wake up call that I was significantly depressed.

I remember that moment really well--I was making a lasagne roll up dish for a church missions potluck, fighting a crushing feeling welling up in me. I got through halfway through the recipe and quit. I was trying to make the noodles stay rolled, and they kept unrolling themselves. They wouldn't look like the picture in my Betty Crocker Cookbook. I was ready to chuck those babies across my perfectly clean kitchen.

Instead, I called my friend, Tricia. We were both newlyweds at the time and loved our church's zeal for missions. Tricia and her husband were on the missions committee as well. She listened to my story and just said that she would pray for me and that I should take a break and stay home. And she asked if my problem wasn't about a stupid recipe, that maybe I was over-reacting.

I sat in my kitchen and looked at the factors that lead up to the feeling of being overwhelmed. It wasn't just I packed one more item into my schedule, plus a casserole. I wanted the casserole to be perfect, or I'd let everyone down. And ultimately, I was afraid to say "no" to my husband, because a perfect Christian wife would not do that. And I didn't want to fight with him. I was not in the habit of taking responsibility for my own welfare. I was not accostumed to giving myself a break.

So I prayed. When Dennis came home from work, I was still sitting in the kitchen with my unrolled roll ups talking to Jesus. He asked me when we were going to be ready to go to the potluck, and I calmly said not tonight, that we were staying home and I needed to rest. I was "peopled out". He told me he didn't mind staying home, either. I got some toothpicks, finished my recipe and we had roll ups for dinner.

A few years later, I found a good counselor. She asked what I wanted out of therapy. I told her I wanted a steady life, no crash and burns all the time. And for a few years, I worked on what was driving me. I learned that the inward pressure I sometimes felt was a warning sign that I was pushing myself too hard. I learned to ask for and get help. I learned to let go of perfectionism. I learned how to take care of myself. I took personal responsibility over what I could control, and gave up control over what wasn't my responsibility. And that Betty Crocker lied to me with that recipe.

Right now, as I am writing this, I have a laundry basket next to me full of laundry that has needed to be folded for a week. It's okay. Dennis and Youngbae are cooking steak for dinner right now. It's fine with me. I see an inch of dust in our living room, even though we've had dozens of people there since the last time I dusted. I can live with that. I need to call a carpet cleaner, but I'm waiting for the money to be saved to get the whole house done so it's taking a while longer. I'll wait, even though we have people in and out seeing the rug's condition. I haven't read all my mail, either. And I really don't care.

But I'm slowly dealing with my fridge that needs to be cleaned--chucking out the expired items and leftovers. I think about how to organize the linen closet (again) when I have a few moments. I am planning to do a thorough cleaning of our bathroom on Tuesday. I have a few phone calls to make to check on some friends and family. I find time to read "The Economist" while I'm on the can. It works for me.

But ultimately, I've chosen to draw near to the One who gave me this life. And only He can empower me to live it in a way that brings Him the glory.

Thursday, October 08, 2009



"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

And not only that but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perserverence; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.

For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation."

Romans 5:1-11

In Chapter 4, Paul speaks of Abraham and how he had faith in God and in God's promise--the unwavering kind of faith that resulted in imputed righteousness, and how that is a picture of how our faith in Christ also results in an imputed righteousness--nothing we have done to deserve it but by faith in what He accomplished on our behalf.

Here in Chapter 5, Paul describes more in depth what real faith brings to the believer's life--peace, joy, hope, perserverance, character, love and reconciliation as well as righteousness--all treasures, all joy that we experience in Christ. The Christian life is meant to be a rich one indeed, in spite of any suffering and deep trials we go through. Life is full of losses here in our earthly life, but in Christ we have a hope that doesn't disappoint. Somehow, all these treasures amount to God's glory. It something He does in us. I'm still thinking about it.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


I remember one Saturday morning twenty years ago, I was sitting in a park with my Bible and a cup of coffee reading in Luke about Mary's pregnancy with Jesus. As I read the story, it sank in that nothing was left to chance, it was all under God's control. Nothing escaped His will then and I realized that nothing escapes His will now. It was comforting and awesome at the same time, and I remember feeling a sense of reverence that went deep into my heart.

But as this memory comes back to me, I am also reflecting about the situation of a family two houses down from us. The mom died suddenly earlier this summer, due to a mix up of medication as she was being treated in a local hospital for a chronic condition that often left her dishabilitated but she still had many more years ahead with her husband and three children. The neighborhood pitched in and helped out at the house making repairs and cleaning and landscaping as the dad and kids spent the summer with extended family after the funeral. But it was still a painful return home to start the school year without their mom there.

The family are Christians and believe in God's love and soveriegnty, as well as in Jesus dying on a cross for sins and being resurrected the ultimate triumph over death. They believe that their mom is with Jesus and that they will see her in heaven someday. And I pray that their faith will get them through these growing up years without her.

This weekend, I'll be walking our Golden Retriever by their house and ask if the kids would want to join me for a few turns around the block. Ginger knows them and they know Ginger ever since she was a puppy. Maybe they would like to play fetch with her or frisbee. I feel helpless in the face of seeing others greive--especially children, but I got a dog with a lot of energy and love and even though that's all I can give for a few hours, I hope that it's something.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

I haven't felt like writing for awhile and that's unusual for me. Sometimes I just have a dry spell--plain old I don't have anything. Nope, got nothing. And then there's I've got too much on my mind and I'm having trouble processing it all. Or I'm having a rare moment where I want to keep it all close to me instead of floating around in cyberspace. It's scary when people come up to me and say that they are following my blog--and I love it at the same time. But I think I wrote more when I thought that no one actually reads this thing.

So yeah, right now I've got lots of deep thoughts just rolling around in my head. We've taken two trips this month and there's a lot to share about that, too. And I've been reading and that is blogworthy as well. So we'll see. It's one thing to have an idea and another to actually put some words to it. Most of my ideas have no words until I either start typing, writing or speaking. And it usually surprises me what comes out.

Most of my thoughts are in forms of images and feelings associated with them. Really abstract stuff. I've often wondered about that--it's like a series of movie clips, and if I'm really intrigued I run them on repeat over and over. Is this normal? It's like when I read, I have mental pictures associated with the words I'm reading. The mental pictures have given me an incredible memory. When I'm reading something that I cannot picture in my head, it gets really hard to connect with it or remember it. My heart has its limits. If it is a number or even a cold hard fact, it bounces right off of me and I have to fight to retain it.

So, when I have conversations with people, it usually means that the words that are coming out of my mouth are flowing from feelings and an image of an idea in my brain. I'm translating myself on the spot with words and it's usually spontaneous. So, that's a short tour of Althea's brain. I don't use words to think with and I don't know how I do it.

So on that note, I will tell you about my favorite CD by Fernando Ortega "The Shadow of Your Wings, Hymns and Sacred Songs". The imagery is lush and poetic, and the tunes are calming and peaceful. Ortega has this quality of worship with quiet tranquil humility--he really is bowing down in the presence of the Almighty. My most favorite track of all is the third one "Let the Words of My Mouth"

Let the words
of my mouth
be pleasing to You, pleasing to You
The meditation of my heart
be pleasing to You, pleasing to You
O Lord, my strength and
my Redeemer.

Whatever is true,
Whatever is pure,
Whatever is lovely,
Whatever is worthy,
Think on these things
Think on these things.

Let the words
of my mouth
be pleasing to you, pleasing to you.