Friday, November 26, 2010

The last 48 hours has been a stream of constant planning, cooking, cleaning, and enjoying. Thanksgivings have been a mixed bag over the years of either hosting or being hosted. A few years ago, one celebration involved a buffet that included two turkeys, chaos and an overstuffed house. Since then, Dennis and I worked through what we wanted for our holiday:

1. To be in community with at least one other Christian--that no matter what, we want to include another member of our "spiritual family" or "church home" in some way. I wish there was a Thanksgiving church service, but any informal fellowship is better than none. At the heart of the holiday, is the experience of koininia.

2. Thanksgiving for us means expressing our gratitude to God which also means for us, worshiping Him because He is the center of our lives. He holds me together--sometimes, with "Crazy Glue" I think.

3. Know our limits. If time allows, yes, have a Thanksgiving blow out. But if we don't have the time, energy or means, it's okay to accept an invitation elsewhere and bring a dish. Potlucks are a beautiful thing. They are much harder to coordinate than most people realize.

4. If we decide to host, invite people from other countries. Don't expect that they will like the food (it is really different from what they might be used to). Don't expect that they won't, either. Prepare the meal to the full extent of your ability, and just be satisfied in that. I cooked for two days, just for the joy of sharing my culture and childhood memories. Ask them to bring a dish to share and taste it, inquire about the ingredients and preparation. Food is a vast source of cultural information as well as fun.

5. If we accept an invitation, bring something unexpected. The Thanksgiving menu is pretty much the same everywhere, so a surprise of some sort is a nice addition. I like bringing a light salad with mixed greens, pears, dried cranberries and my own vinegiarette, for example. Or a chocolate something or other.

6. If there are no invitations or inviting others (which is incredibly rare for us) because of no time or not knowing anyone (also very rare but it had happened at least twice in the last 21 years), be content. That means no pity parties. Sometimes, we just need a break to be reminded of God's perfect love for us and that is enough.

7. Do something other than eat. I told some international friends that Thanksgiving is one of the more boring holidays. Americans tend to do little else other than eat, watch a football game (men) or sit around and talk about Black Friday (women) or clean up (kids--at least in my family--washing dishes took hours in the kitchen because of our shenanigans). In college, I visited my friend's house in my hometown after our dinner and hers were over and played pinochle in her family's annual tournement (she had 14 brothers and sisters). Hands down, the best Thanksgiving experience I had up to that point.

8. When I cooked my first Thanksgiving in our own home for company, I was 29 years old. I worked at home for my own business and made my own schedule. I shouldn't have been as massively stressed but I was. It was about being driven by perfectionism and people pleasing. I had post-its all over the kitchen for days, and written down schedules and deadlines. It was an amazing dinner. I got lots of compliments but for some reason, I wasn't really all that thankful. Yesterday, I pretty much made the same menu without needing to use post-its and a schedule--some things worked without a hitch, somethings didn't pan out as they should have (no luck with the Shitake mushroom gravy), but you know, it didn't matter. I could execute the perfect turkey dinner but without love, it profits me nothing.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Blessing of Ruth



The first time I read The Book of Ruth was in college, in my sophmore year. Her story stayed with me for weeks after my first, second and third readings. Whenever I needed encouragement, especially about romantic relationships, that was where I went. I didn't understand everything with the book, but I learned something new as a young believer with every reading. If there ever was a Biblical character I wanted to be like, Ruth was the one. I still do, but sometimes, I feel more like Naomi.

After I started my narrative about The Book of Ruth several months ago, I discovered poems written by John Piper about Ruth. Then I found that these poems were based on his book about her called A Sweet and Bitter Providence. In the lounge area of the Meijer's today, I downloaded a copy onto my Kindle reader and read the first two chapters on my walk home from the store.

An encouraging excerpt:

"The mood of American life today is, If it feels good, do it, and away with guilt-producing, puritanical principles of chastity and faithfulness. But I say to you who are unmarried, if the stars are shining in their beauty, and your blood is thudding like a hammer, and you are safe in the privacy of your place, stop....for the sake of righteousness. Let the morning dawn on your purity.


My narratives about the characters in Ruth were mainly an exercise in meditation. The exercise brought me to places of understanding Scripture that I didn't have before. And it makes me want to know more.




Wednesday, November 10, 2010

35 Years Ago Today…

Back in the 70's, I had a job but saved everything I earned as a 14 year old cook at the A&W. I bought a few albums, though, but only after careful deliberation. Then I played them to death. Gordon Lightfoot's "Gord's Gold" had the Edmund Fitzgerald song, which was my very favorite.

A few weeks ago, the winds blew so hard, the meterologists kept saying that the last time the wind was this bad was 35 years ago when the Edmund Fitzgerald went down.

Now, I live here, and when I see those ships on the Great Lakes, I think of this song.

35 Years Ago Today…

Friday, November 05, 2010

Naomi's Thoughts

Naomi lit a lamp and sat up on her straw pallet. She didn't know how she would feel, being back home in Elimelech's house. So quiet. So empty. So different from her days here as a young mother, scolding her sons and happily nagging her husband--her men all took it in stride, sometimes mocking her behind her back, sometimes genuinely afraid of her. She chuckled briefly.

Then, the famine crept up on them, the fields yeilding less and less every year. The family grew more silently desperate, and Naomi learned quickly not too push her hardworking menfolk too much. Elimelech once said during an especially fatigued moment that he missed her nagging, the boys nodding their heads in grim agreement.

Missed my nagging! Naomi chuckled again at the memory of his comment. She recalled how she responded with "Did you remember to bring the goat back from the back pasture so I can milk it? Where's my goat?" with her old impatient tone. They all roared with laughter until they cried. It took hard times to appreciate the specialness of ordinary days. We miss the most strange things, she thought.

Before, this house seemed too small and constantly having to be cleaned and put in order, she mused. All that work! To be sitting without anything to do was uncanny and unnatural. Those were the days. Naomi closed her eyes. It was more painful being here than she thought.

Because of her little speech to the old friends and neighbors recieving them right at the beginning, people knew enough to stay away. No one knocked on the door to visit and gossip or ask a hundred questions. Naomi preferred it this way, which was so different from the old days. In the old days, her home was open to all the women in the neighborhood as they worked and talked and watched babies together. When the famine came, they came to worry and commiserate together with hushed voices so the children couldn't overhear.

Now, everyone must be at the harvest. The famine is over, and her family is gone. Not here to rejoice and celebrate and work. Elimelech knew this day would come, but didn't live to see it. The sight of the abundant sheaves of grain burned her eyes as they passed through the fields on the way to town.

Naomi laid back down on her bed. Such a contrast to the last harvest before they left for Moab. The whole town was at the threshing floor, witnessing the meager return for their year long labors. There wasn't enough to feed everyone and what there was, would go to the highest bidder, which would be very high indeed. People were going to die of starvation.

Some of the men broke down and fell on their knees, Elimelech among them. Like herself, he was thinking of Mahlon and Chilion, both whom were never strong physically and were the least likely to survive the famine. Near him was Boaz, a family member.

Boaz, even during this dark time, kept the old practices of providing for the poor by leaving portions of his fields for them to glean or gather food for themselves. He even left larger portions than required in the Law as times got tighter. Besides saving for seed for next year's planting, he was under much strain for his own livelihood. Knowing Boaz, like everyone did, he probably refrained from marriage and raising his own family in order to save seed grain and provide for the poor. He starved as much as everyone else.

In order to relieve the strain on the village and protect his vulnerable family, Elimelech decided to leave before it was too late. They still had food, they still had some strength and some means. The boys were of age to be married--how would we manage that in Moab, Naomi inquired of him. Elimelech replied that the Law prohibited our women to marry Moabite men, but not for our men to marry Moabite women. Well, make sure that they are rich, she replied. Her Eli laughed out loud. It was a rare sound these days and it made her smile a little. Yes, my Naomi, we will come back with daughters-in-law, grandchildren and food for everyone to share!

At recalling this, Naomi gave out a long sigh and closed her eyes. They had hoped the boys would grow stronger and recover from their health problems--Eli had secured good, caring brides for them but no matter what they did, they declined further and further. The burden of starting over in Moab fell on Elimelech's shoulders alone, and he was the first to go under the pressure. It wasn't long before Mahlon and Chilion followed him.

It was more than Naomi could bear. Do you care, Lord? Did we offend You? What do You want from me? The three questions haunted her and kept her from her rest, until she heard Ruth return from her gleaning.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Boaz

There was something about her that reminded him of his mother, Rahab. Rahab had hid the spies in Jericho because she believed in the stories she had heard about the God of the Isrealites. He had heard her first hand account of how the spies gave her a red cord to mark her house to spare her during the invasion, how the army of the Lord marched around the walls of the city and how the Lord caused the walls come down. Although his mother made a living from prostitution, she left all of that behind to begin a new life with the God of Isreal.

Rahab always told him how she met his father, and how his family welcomed her into their family even though she wasn't from their people. His grandfather, Nahshon, was especially attentive and kind towards her as well as his grand-aunt and uncle, Elisheba and Aaron. His mother's quick thinking and faith had been a catalyst towards a great victory and miracle by God! But his mother was always different. She had much to learn about the Law and the ways of their people, so the family was very patient in teaching her everything she needed to know.

He had heard much about Ruth--she had a good reputation even before she entered Bethlehem, as travelers on the road had witnessed about how Ruth meticulously and tenderly looked after Naomi. Naomi probably would have died without her. Boaz felt badly, that perhaps he could have sent servants to meet them and bring them home. But by the time he had heard they were coming, they already had arrived in town and settled in Elimelech's old house. Ruth also acted quickly by coming to work this morning, he thought. Boaz was impressed with her diligence and wisdom. His mother would have liked Ruth very much, if she were alive today.

Before the mid-day break and meal, he glanced towards the field where he instructed Ruth to stay with his female workers. Not only did she heed his words, she was smiling as she labored under the sun. That one, he surmised, will have no shortage of suitors. She will be married in a very short time. The thought made him happy and strangely sad at the same time.

Ruth Meets Boaz

Ruth observed the harvesting process, some fields were more orderly than others. She watched for awhile how the skilled paid workers cut down the grain and some gathered for the threshing barn. Then there were the unpaid workers, mostly women, who were cleaning up the fallen stalks left on the ground. The latter group were free to take the grain home with them, so Ruth introduced herself as Naomi's daughter-in-law to the foreman in charge and inquired if she could glean, too. He recognized Naomi's name and approved her request to work.

Back home in Moab, the owners of the harvests brought all the grain to be threshed and stored, the fallen grain and stalks were never left behind for the needy in the community. Although Ruth was still tired after her long walk to Bethlehem, she was glad to have something productive to do. However, her appearence and clothing set her apart from the rest of the workers-- Ruth felt like a crow in a field full of sparrows.

She worked without stopping all morning, for this was the food they were going to need to sustain themselves all year--there was no other food source for her and Naomi. She did answer the occasional questions from the other women as she worked: that Naomi was very tired from her ordeal and needed rest; yes, it's true that Elilemech and Mahlon and Chilion died in Moab; no, there are no grandchildren.

Finally, Ruth felt a little dizzy from being in the sun and left the fields to rest for a few minutes in a house set up for the workers. Just as she sat down, she heard it--the blessing she had heard from afar the day before--one man calling out loudly and joyfully "May the LORD be with you!" and the reapers response "May the LORD bless you!". The greeting made Ruth smile, and she realized that she hadn't smiled like this for a very long time.

The owner of the fields that she was working in was the the lone voice greeting the workers, and she saw him talk to the foreman for a minute and then walk up to the house she was resting in. Her first impression of Boaz was that even though he was older, he radiated strength and vitality. At the same time, his words were full of compassion and kindness.

"Listen carefully, my daughter. Do not go to glean in another field; furthermore, do not go on from this one, but stay here with my maids. Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Indeed, I have commanded the servants not to touch you. When you are thirsty, go to the water jars and drink from what the servants draw."

For the first time in years, some one took notice of her and her needs. Ruth had no one to teach her where to go, where not to go and what to do in this foreign place. She had been alone for a long time in taking care of Naomi without anyone caring for her. The sensitivity and understanding towards her caused Ruth feel overwhelmingly grateful, so much that she cast herself face down bowing to the ground "Why have I found favor in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?"

Boaz did not hesitate to answer. "All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know. May the LORD reward your work, and your wages be full from the LORD, the God of Isreal, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge."

Joy pierced Ruth like an arrow. This was what Naomi was like back in the old days! She used to say things like this all the time! A man who knows Naomi's God! "I have found favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and indeed have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants."

Ruth went back to work, but she couldn't stop smiling. She was truly comforted and blessed by God.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Ruth's Dilemma

Ruth woke up with a start. For a brief moment, she was confused as to where she was until she remembered she was with Naomi in Bethlehem. She laid back down on the hard, cool, earth floor and pulled her cloak tighter around her as she waited for her heart to calm back down. She had never been this far away from home in her life. As exciting as it was, she had several fears to contend with.

She looked at Naomi lying across the room in the dark and sighed. Her mother-in-law had clearly given up. All the challenges for their survival paled in light of this particular dilemma. Ruth never felt so helpless. But by now, she saw what Naomi wanted. God's blessing.

Ruth dried her tears and sat up. She was in the Promised Land now. How could such a wonderful blessing for herself come through Naomi's pain? For what reason? Her mind sifted through all the stories Naomi taught her. Joseph's words to his brothers during their reconciliation in Egypt came to her, "What you intended for bad, God used for good."

The thought spurred her to her feet and she started to prepare for the day ahead. She found a water vessel and found the local water supply. She picked up some firewood and made a fire. They had a little morsel of food left over from their journey, and Ruth made a bit of breakfast for them, which Naomi refused to eat after she awoke. Ruth left it next to her in case she changed her mind later. Ruth also gathered some hay to make a more comfortable bed for Naomi. With some water and cloth ripped from the bottom of her cloak, Ruth made soothing poultices for Naomi's sore feet. The journey was physically brutal, but even more so for elders.

As she applied the wet cloth to Naomi's feet, she asked her if she could work in the nearby barley fields. Naomi consented, "Go, my daughter" and laid back down. Ruth got up and glanced at her good dress that she had carefully folded and placed in a corner of their room along with her small vial of perfume. Maybe she could sell those items if they needed some money. But she wasn't ready to totally rule out a marriage. God had provided a husband before when it seemed unlikely-- if He wanted, He could certainly do it again. How He would do it without even a dowry or family connections--the basics for any decent match--was beyond her imagination. It was going to take a miracle. Like the bread from Heaven, called Manna, that fed the Isrealites in the wilderness.

She brushed her hair, washed her face and headed out, not knowing where she was going. God will help me, she whispered to herself, I am totally in the dark here. Over the horizon, the sun was rising for the new day, and Ruth took heart.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I Know God is For Me

"This is the reflex we should have: when we fear, we trust; when we fear, we have faith. This means that fear leads to trust which leads to praise. Christ is our promise and Christ is our grace. So we look to Him and conclude that “God is for me.” “I will not fear what man can do unto me” (vs. 11)." --Nancey Ann Wilson from her blog, Femina

Sunday, October 17, 2010

House of Bread

The sun rose upon fields full of ripe wheat and barley in the cool early morning. The pastoral scene took Ruth's breath away as she approached Bethlehem with Naomi leaning heavily on her shoulder. She saw the workers with their scythe blades flashing on their way to harvest, smelled the fresh aroma of the grain as it was bundled and carried away to the threshing floor. Both men and women were out laboring in the fields, Ruth noted as her stomach rumbled with hunger, each filling their assigned roles in the harvest. Such bounty! Ruth had never seen such abundance in her whole life!

And then she heard it--one man calling out a greeting "The Lord be with you!" and a multitude of voices responding "The Lord bless you!" in a distant field. Her eyes searched where the greetings had come from, but she couldn't tell. As soon as they entered the town and settled, Ruth planned to be out here the next morning. Maybe there was something she could do to support herself and Naomi. She wanted to be in that field where the blessing was.

Naomi had been quiet the whole journey back to her home. Ruth had hoped that she would begin to cheer up as they got closer, but Naomi seemed to regress even further. Maybe when she saw her old friends and family? She talked so much about them before the disaster in Moab struck, Ruth felt she knew some of them already.

Ruth suddenly felt conscious of her appearence. She had worn her good brilliantly colored robe under her plain outer garments and cloak, she wondered if she should make herself more presentable. In a pocket, she had some perfume that she hoped to wear at her own wedding some day, if God willed it. Instead of adjusting her appearence, she decided to pull her head covering more tightly over her head and face. It was Naomi's reunion, and she decided it was best she not attract any attention to herself. It was not her time for introductions, but probably a good time to observe the new culture that she was going to learn to live in. In fact, it was probably best to be quiet and blend in as much as possible.

At the outskirts of the town, Naomi pulled away from Ruth and straightened her back. She was more weary than she let on. Naomi walked ahead and Ruth followed a short distance behind her. As they rounded the bend into the main street, Ruth felt all eyes on them as they entered the main square. A crowd gathered around them as she heard some of the women ask each other if this was Naomi. Naomi turned to them, and said her first words since they left Moab.

"Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?"

Silence fell over the whole crowd and no one moved. Tears welled up in Ruth's eyes. She had no idea how deep Naomi's pain and anger had grown. It had grown very deep indeed. Ruth wanted to reach out and tell Naomi to take heart, but she kept her words to herself. The two women passed through the quiet crowd, towards a vacant dwelling place that Naomi somehow knew of and collapsed into a deep sleep without refreshing themselves after their long journey.

But Ruth's heart was full. Thank you, Lord, for bringing me to Your people. Thank you for bringing something good out of the bad.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

More Naomi, Orpah and Ruth

Orpah

After Naomi finished speaking, Orpah caught her breath and took a glance at her sister-in-law, Ruth. Usually, Orpah took a little longer than Ruth to understand Naomi, but this time they simultaneously got her meaning. After spending so much time together, Orpah and Ruth could read each other's thoughts without speaking.

That Naomi was too old to bear sons for them to marry was obvious-- yet, it was comforting to know that she would keep them in her family if she could. However, Naomi was not going to arrange marriages for them once they got to her hometown of Bethlehem. They were Moabite women, and there had been enmity between their peoples for some time.

In addition, no matter how carefully and completely Naomi taught them about her people and their ways and their God, Orpah had difficulty understanding and embracing it. The Moabites didn't worship one God, but many gods. When Orpah and Ruth joined the household of Elimelech, it was understood that they were not to bring their idols with them. Orpah missed her old traditions, and relunctantly adapted to the new ones.

Chilion, her husband and Naomi's son, was like his mother--very generous and loving, though. And most of their time together was pleasant. He teased her about her name, meaning "long necked one" and she teased him back about his odd name. Little did they both know, that the manner of his death eventually bore out the meaning of his name. He wasted away, and she gently and tenderly cared for him all those years. When he finally passed, Orpah decided that there would be no other husband who could ever replace Chilion. Furthermore, there was no other home for her but Naomi's home. But even then, Orpah did not believe in Chilion's God.

And now, here on this road, Orpah became acutely aware of the main difference between Naomi's people and Orpah's people. It was more than culture, dress and customs. After Naomi's final motherly kiss, Orpah turned her long, elegant neck away and headed back to her home in Moab.

Naomi

Tears streamed down Naomi's face as she watched Orpah walk away. She knew it was wrong that she and Elimelech left the Promised Land, and that it was wrong for them to find Moabite wives for their sons. Yet, she didn't fully comprehend that the price for their lack of faith would be blood. She should have. Their hunger and weakness drove them to desperation, despite their knowledge of the Law and History that Moses left. The people weren't delivered from Egypt to go to Moab. But she had hoped that they would eventually return with food to share with the community in Bethlehem, like Joseph's brothers of old.

Moab. When Ruth asked her about the original ancestors of her country, Naomi told her quietly and plainly. Both Ruth and Orpah wept at the story, each of their heads on each of Naomi's shoulders. Naomi consoled them that now they knew that they were very distant relatives. And even Moses had a Gentile wife. Yet while Ruth softened after this discussion, Orpah seemed more distant than before.

When Orpah left, it didn't surprise her all that much. When Ruth fell at her feet with the beautiful and heart-felt vow, she wasn't surprised either. We will see, she said to herself, if Ruth has real faith or not. But do I?

For the rest of the journey, there were no more stories, words or explanations. Naomi's silence grew even deeper. Ruth had many questions about how to behave in her newly adopted home, but kept them all to herself. She prayed that God would show her the way.




Thursday, October 07, 2010

About Naomi

Naomi didn't know what came over her, but she stopped in the middle of the road. She just wanted to be alone, all of a sudden. Orpah and Ruth had been by her side for nearly 10 years, and she didn't know what she would've done without them. There were hard times, for sure, but there was still hope that it would all turn around.

But it didn't.

All the stories, the songs, the teaching and the love she poured into the future mothers of her grandchildren so that they would know the ways of their God and people. It was for nothing. She didn't want to waste their time, their precious time. They had no idea how quickly the years sped by. One minute you are a busy young mother and the next, you are a childless widow.

What is there left to do but wait for God to finally take her? And then what would happen to Orpah and Ruth--they would be left alone in a strange country without her. In the middle of having been abandoned, she did not want to abandon them.

For the first time in months, Naomi felt an emotion welling up in her heart. She had been in shock and numb from pain. But this emotion was a new and strange one, mixed with her deep concern and love for her daughters by marriage. If God indeed was punishing her, then it would not be good for them to tag along to experience His anger. God is just, God is King and God does whatever He pleased. She prayed that He would spare them, that He would allow her little doves to fly and build their own nests elsewhere.

The famine 10 years ago was for disciplining God's people, but her husband thought that they would escape by fleeing to Moab. She knew he was trying to protect them and keep the family bloodline going by finding the best women for their sons in Moab. Naomi was surprised at his choices for their sons. They were not wealthy and had few resources to fall back on. He simply shrugged and said money did not matter this time. He picked these because they reminded him of Naomi in some ways. What, she asked, well they look nothing like me! You are right, he replied, but Ruth's friendliness and Orpah's industriousness are qualities that I see in you.

With that, she was content. Her husband always knew what to say to convince her. And he was right. Ruth was more than a smiling face, she was quick to listen and retained almost anything Naomi said or did. Orpah was more independent, but she was practical and organized. With intelligent wives like these, Naomi thought, much could be accomplished.

But now, here on this desolate road, she was about to break their hearts. They had grown so close, this was not going to be easy. But they had to know the truth. They had to be set free.

When Naomi opened her mouth, her voice was flat and her words heavy with despair. She didn't sound like herself, it was a long time since she tried to explain anything to them and it felt unfamiliar and strange to her what used to be a constant occurance as they worked side by side to build a home and a future together. They made a plan, but only God could make it happen and for reasons of His own, He had another one she knew not of.

About Orpah

Naomi took Orpah's hand as they walked with Ruth slowly down the road, away from the village she had lived in all her life. Orpah squeezed Naomi's hand back and reached out for Ruth's. The three lived together and suffered together as their husbands passed away. Each took their turn in comforting the other over the years, knowing well how it was in each other's shoes. It was a kinship and a bond that felt closer than she ever had with her own family or even husband. Just a few days ago, Naomi told them that she was going back home and Orpah was too busy getting ready to leave to stop and think what it all meant.

Orpah assumed without question that she and Ruth were going to accompany Naomi on this trip, even though Naomi never directly asked them to come. Naomi was strangely silent for the last month, in fact, saying very little. Under the circumstances, that wasn't unusual for a woman in mourning. Orpah reminded herself that whatever she suffered, Naomi suffered three times more with not just the loss of a husband but also two sons. The grueling task of simply surviving left Orpah very little time to reflect about why this happened to them, but the question came to her at night as she drifted off in dreamless slumber.

The question remained unasked but floated over her mind as she drove herself to exhaustion finding and preparing their meager portions of food as well as scant twigs for firewood. They were on the brink of begging on the corner and Orpah was tired of going to her childhood home to ask her father and mother for a measure of barley and oil to make into small cakes. Her family had enough of their own problems keeping food in their larder, she didn't want to be a burden as well. Where to find their next meal was constantly on her mind.

She was dismayed to see that Ruth packed very little food to take--barely enough to make it on a week long journey by foot. None of them could afford to lose any more weight, what if there was nothing when they got to Bethleham? What if it was just a cruel rumor that the famine in Isreal was over and the people there were just as thin and hungry as she was? How would she know for sure? As much as she loved these two women and as much as they had endured as fellow widows, she wasn't sure that she was willing to die in the middle of the wilderness with them. Now that she had time to think, she wish that her thoughts would stop.

They hadn't walked very far before Naomi came to a complete halt. Orpah looked behind them, the village was still visible just over the rise of a gentle hill. Ahead of them was wind, sun and lots and lots of sandy dirt. Naomi turned to her daughters-in-law and looked them both in the eye. Orpah noticed for the first time how much older Naomi appeared. It took her breath away. Suddenly, she felt older, too. How many lines were etched around her eyes and furrows across her forehead? Who would marry her, now?

Naomi just stood silently in front of them, as the wind whistled around the trio and whipping their cloaks into the air. Naomi dropped Orpah's hand but Orpah tightened her grip around Ruth's. Orpah respected and loved Naomi , but she had disappeared so within herself and her grief that Orpah didn't know her anymore. Now looking her in the eye, she realized that they had become strangers.

Naomi used to talk non-stop, back in the good days. She told stories, she sang and she taught them everything about herself, her God and her people and their ways. They never had much, but they had Naomi who went out of her way to welcome them into the family and make them feel comfortable in their new home with her. Oh, the laughter! The jokes! Working alongside Naomi was never work! Orpah had hoped that the old Naomi would come back, that this move back to Bethleham would bring her to life, but looking at her at that moment, she realized that it was not going to happen. It was going to take much more to revive her old friend.

Orpah knew that it was more than death that made Naomi despair. She didn't know what it was, and if Naomi revealed it, would she understand? She didn't understand the stories that she shared which kept Ruth in a state of rapture so much she would drop whatever was in her hands as she worked beside Naomi who narrated stories to them. Most of what Naomi said went right over Orpah's head.

And now, what was on Naomi's tongue to say to break her long wordlessness? If only her husband and sons could see her now--a silent Naomi used to be incomprehensible. But no one, not even Orpah, minded that she loved to talk because everything was said with joy and kindness.

Finally, Naomi began to speak, and Orpah felt like every word was a blow to her heart. There was kindness but no joy. Instead, a bitterness that pierced her like a sword. She reeled and sobbed. Her dearest mother-in-law was certainly gone and someone else had taken her place. Where was the real Naomi? Did she really even exist? Who was this woman?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

About Ruth

I began writing a story in August and just finished it tonight. I led an international women's bible study this summer in The Book of Ruth and The Book of Esther, which were the sources of my inspiration. You can read it here: http://theasideas2.blogspot.com/2010/08/about-ruth.html

This particular scene comes from my meditation about Ruth's mindset as she prepared to accompany Naomi and Orpah on the road back to Bethlehem. I wondered how she felt about Naomi and about what Naomi taught her. I wondered about her struggles and how she dealt with them. I wondered about her desires, and how these desires were a foreshadow of what was to come--her great grandchild was King David, an ancestor of Jesus' bloodline.

It was a lot of work for just these paragraphs, not sure if I have the time to invest more. But if the process helps me meditate on God's word, then it might not be a waste of time.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Maturity and Failures


I'm not an expert at how to handle failure, but I am aware of how fear of failure has kept me from trying new things or move past my comfort zone. The subject came up while driving home with a small contingent of Korean girls from a beginning of the Michigan State University year international student welcome party in a big barn. Even though it was hard to understand and be understood (on both my part and theirs) we tackled the subject with as much depth as possible. We have been friends for the better part of 4 months and ready to have more meaningful conversations.


We had just participated in a fun and informal volleyball game at the party way past dark. My friends were not used to joining in this kind of game and pretty much avoided it until a much loved American friend encouraged them to try after the picnic. Afterwards, on the way home, one of the girls commented that she thought I did well in playing the game. Actually, she should have seen me 25 years ago. I was a little better back then. So, my response was "I am getting old" which prompted much laughter in the car. Even though we were playing just for fun and not keeping score, I pondered in my heart how competancy was on the minds of everyone involved from the beginners to old fools like me. We all want to look good.


Finally, one of the girls started searching for an English word. It was hard, because it came with huge emotional connotations of shame. After several tries, she said, "Forget it, it's okay." I helped her out--"Failure?" I asked. She was quiet, and it was dark in the car so I couldn't see her facial expression. The word floated in the air like a bad smell. I told her about my supervisor when I started working as a barista who said that everyone makes mistakes and that I needed to "get over it". She laughed and said that she wanted to have a supervisor like that one. I said that my supervisor was getting tired of hearing me lament over every little thing that fell short.


I shared how Americans usually use the term "It was a learning experience" a lot and it really means "I messed up" and the Korean girls found this hilarious. I told them that American bosses like to hear this because it means that you know what happened, why it happened and how not to let it happen again. One of my friends commented that failure means you actually tried. I agreed with her wholeheartedly.


But it didn't stop me from kicking myself all night into this morning about mistakes and a memory lapses that kept haunting me from the previous evening's party. I saw many people I recognized from previous years and couldn't remember exactly how I knew them. I am very proud of my recall abilities, but now I think I have over reached my capacity. I got names and faces wrong and it bugs me to no end. In some cases, I worried if I hurt some people's feelings. In some cases, I worried if there was something wrong with my brain.


Like my physical self, my mental self has seen better days. However, when I was 21 years old, if I swam four laps in a pool, it was a huge acheivement. Now, at 48, I easily swim three times that and if I want to, a mile is achievable. Mentally, my memory may blur a lot, but I think my ability to comprehend "the big picture" of any meaningful thing I do is so much clearer than when I was a young whipper snapper. In other words, I no longer sprint so well, but I have enough endurance for what I need.


In the meantime, it's okay to slow down and begin to appreciate how many people from all over the world God has brought to me. I am human and weak and forget too many wonderful experiences with wonderful friends. But God is God and He is strong and His memory is infinite. My finite being that fails--I am a jar of clay--holds within a precious and glorious treasure. Jesus.


And that's the best way I know of about how to handle failure.


"We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves." 1 Corinthians 4:7-8 NLT
"My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever." Psalm 73:26 NLT

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Forever Young

Tony Ling blogs about Bob Dylan's music, posting a review about every song he wrote. (http://everybobdylansong.blogspot.com/ ) Since Dylan is still writing and recording, Ling's aspiration may well be a life long endeavor. Especially at the pace he's currently going (in between grad school commitments). But every entry is worth the wait, whether I agree with it or not. Today's blog is about "Forever Young", from the album Planet Waves. My favorite remark:



"Everything about the released master take, from Robertson's gentle solos to the harmonica stabs throughout and to Dylan's incredible vocal performance, maybe the greatest of his career ("Something There Is About You" is a personal favorite, but I will fully admit that this performance here blows it out of the water), is so inch-perfect that every time I listen to the track it takes all my, erm, inherent manliness to not just weep at how amazing the track is. "


Ling goes on to describe how Dylan's mastery of song writing is displayed in his ability to be both simple and meaningful with the lyrics, that the words and the execution of the song sink deeply in our hearts whether we are parents or not. It is the best Dylan song, in Ling's point of view.

And I agree. Parental love is the deepest of human loves and one of the hardest to articulate. The song goes further, though. It is about giving a child your blessing. We all long to be blessed by others, but to be verbally blessed by your father and mother is very special. But more wonderful than that, is the priviledge to give a child your blessing. In the Old Testament, the Patriarches blessed their progeny before they died. A part of themselves was continuing on even though they were passing away--because of their children and their children's children, they were forever young, too.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Happy 21st Anniversary, Dennis!

One of the biggest surprises in life is finding out who is most compatible with you. Sometimes it isn't the things I have in common with Dennis that makes our marriage work, often it is those things that we have least in common. If you lined up all available bachelors in front of me at 21 years of age and I had to choose which one I would eventually marry in six years, Dennis would not have made the cut. In six years time, he became the only choice I would seriously consider. I watched him handle difficult life situations during those six years, and I knew solid character when I saw it. But I also saw someone who loved people, was fun and excited about life.

I wondered for awhile though, what kind of marriage it would be between a man of action and a woman of endless reflection. I had no idea, but I thought it would be interesting research. My conclusion after 21 years of experimenting on that hypothesis is that marrying Dennis is the best idea I've ever had. We allowed each other to rub off each other a little--Dennis has since become more thoughtful and I can sometimes get stuff done. But mostly, we are more effective when we are ourselves with Dennis following up on if I accomplished what I'm supposed to do and I ask the right questions before he leaps off into a brand new task.

We've had plenty in common, though. But it is those differences that I most appreciate. Adele sings about them in her song "The Same". Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Artful Conversation

One of our favorite activities of the day is sitting around a table over dinner with friends. We talk about random ideas, personal histories, cultural differences, relationships, current events and life in general. Although cooking almost everyday for four people, plus a couple more on occasion, can sometimes be a hassle, I look forward to dinnertime. Conversation, although I'm a little introverted, is important to me.

It has always been vital--so much that while I suffered from painful shyness in fifth grade, I read a book recommended to me by my favorite Librarian at school about how to start and hold conversations. I don't remember the title of the book, but its principles have guided me ever since. The first chapter dealt mostly with proper grammar and ettiquete such as introductions. The subsequent chapters were helpful hints in how to initiate, broach a subject and keep a dialogue going, as well as dangers to avoid like monopolizing everyone's attention. A good conversationalist gives as well as takes, listens well and asks thoughtful questions. Everyone, no matter what their comfort level in socializing, can learn a few basic skills. I think the book had no more than 50 pages, it was one of the precious Scholastic books that I bought for just pennies but it gave me hope. I wore it out.

While at the public library last week, I ran across The Art of Conversation, A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure by Catherine Blyth. Although I am not as shy as I used to be, I decided that it couldn't hurt to brush up a little. Society has changed since I perused that little helpful tome in fifth grade, so I could stand to learn something new.

Blyth's assessment of 21st century culture is that we are neglecting ourselves by neglecting good conversation by our technological dependence on computers, online social networks, cell phones and text messaging. All of that is fine, but it doesn't take the place of our human need to sit down and talk to a person eye to eye. "The irony of this communication age is that we communicate less meaningfully" page 8 of the Introduction. We are starving ourselves of real communication.

This is an opportunity for believers, I think, to meet needs of an increasingly isolated generation who don't know how to initiate a conversation and keep it going. The more skilled we are at communicating, the deeper the impact we may have for glorifying God in sharing His good news for everyone. It is hospitality that goes with us everywhere, in and out of our homes, to extend our attention and get to know someone else, hear their story as they articulate thoughts they didn't know they had until we asked them. Conversations can change lives. And it beats eating dinner in front of a television.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

About Ruth

She packed lightly. Just a little food and water plus the clothes on her back. If they die during the week long trek to Bethlahem, at least they would be together. If they survived, then it would mean a new beginning for her. But she didn't know what it would mean for her dear Naomi.

Sometimes, she missed the Naomi she used to know--the sweet and calm woman who radiated peace and kindness. Life had been one pounding blow after another, leveling Naomi's joyful spirit into the dusty ground. First, Naomi's husband died and then her sons. All Naomi had left was her daughter-in-laws--Orpah and herself. And these days, it didn't seem like she even noticed their existence. When Naomi announced her decision to go back home, Ruth felt her heart stop. She felt her mother-in-law was more than just her husband's parent, she felt they were best friends.

Who helped her prepare for marriage in her tender teen aged years? Who encouraged her and helped her laugh through all the adjustments of becoming a woman? She was just a poor girl from a poor hardworking family. And after Naomi taught Ruth everything she would need to know, she let go and let her be the kind of wife that she was meant to be. All along the way, through all the turbulent years, Naomi never complained but spoke of El-Shaddai--her God and her people--the Hebrews. Naomi was a friend, confidante and a role model. Ruth wanted to be just like her. She longed to meet the Hebrews and know their ways. She wanted to worship their God, but it was hard to do in Moab.

And now, she saw her chance. She would go with Naomi and take care of her as a kind of pay back for all the kindness that Naomi had shown her over the years. It was hard growing old, and she felt for her. She realized that Naomi might never recover from her losses, but she loved her anyway. Ruth would die for this woman who saw something in her other than just an impoverished, ignorant outsider with a pitiful dowry. Naomi would just hug her and say that they got a good bargain.

Finally, her preparations for the trip were complete. She had given her farewells to her family who couldn't understand why she, a rather young widow, would not stay among her own people and start all over with a new husband chosen among the local young men. She stopped by her friends' houses--all young mothers full to the brim with babies and toddlers-- to say mournful good-byes. Oh, they said, stay here with us! Find a good man here so our children could play with your future children!

Ruth was tempted, but she was determined that if she re-married, her children would have a different kind of upbringing. Her children would know the God of the Isrealites and hear the stories about Abraham, Moses, Joshua --all the great men of God. Maybe her future sons would also be men of faith who knew God and served Him. Her friends often whispered to each other--she heard them--that it was a mistake that she married the foreigner. The proof of that was the empty cradle in her home. When Mahlon died, they rejoiced, because it meant to them that Ruth could find a real man who could give her the children she deserved.

Ruth held back tears, but did not resent their comments. These young women did not have the priviledge of sitting at Naomi's feet as Naomi comforted her with the story of Abraham and Sarah's struggle with barrenness. How did those two go on? She wondered. Poor Sarah! Poor Hagar! Poor Ishmael! But God proved to be kind to everyone, even to Sarah in her old age when she laughed at the messenger's prophecy of bearing a son. If God provided for Hagar in the wilderness, surely He would help her even though she was not an Isrealite.

She trembled at the thought. This was the God who parted the sea so that His people could safely escape slavery. This was the God who wrote the Law--the Ten Commandments that Naomi carefully taught her. And He created the whole world! How could she remain in Moab? How much she wanted to be with Naomi and to know her God! This was worth more to her than a hundred children. Ruth had made her choice, she was never going to come back to Moab. She was going to the Land of Bread. She was hungry for more than a few barley cakes. She was hungry to the core of her soul.

She adjusted her sandal straps and pulled her cloak tightly around her. Waiting up the road ahead of her were Naomi and Orpah. She took her first step towards them, her heart pounding quickly in her chest. It was going to be a long and hard journey, but she was starving for God's spiritual bread.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gazpacho

Gazpacho

2 cups chopped fresh and tastiest tomatoes you can afford

1 cup chopped green pepper

3 teaspoons grated garlic

1 cup minced parsley or 1/2 cup minced cilantro

1/2 cup finely diced onion

2 avocados, diced

1 quart spicy V-8

salt and pepper to taste

1 package thawed colossal cooked shrimp

juice of two limes


In a large bowl, mix all ingredients thoroughly. Chill for at least an hour and serve with crusty bread.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Summertime

In the summer, we eat dinner outside almost everyday. It's amazing to sit out there talking from 6 p.m. until almost sundown. I appreciate warm weather more since we first moved to Michigan.

Last summer, I enjoyed having people over for dinner every week and listened to Sheryl Crow at an outdoor concert. We went to Lake Interlochen to visit friends at their cabin and went up to Traverse City. I rode my bike a lot to the store and also to the YMCA for my swim work out.

This summer, I'm looking forward to canoeing, camping and riding my bike on Mackinac Island with Dennis. I want to go to the park every day, if possible, to picnic and read by the river. I also want to take a nap in the shade. And swim like crazy. Life is sweet.


A Satisfied Mind

How many times have you heard someone say
If I had his money I'd do things my way
Hmm, but little they know
Hmm, it's so hard to find
One rich man in ten with a satisfied mind.

Hmm, once I was wading in fortune and fame
Everything that I dreamed of to get a start in life's game
But suddenly it happened
Hmm, I lost every dime
But I'm richer by far with a satisfied mind.

Hmm, when my life is over and my time has run out
My friends and my love ones
I'll leave there ain't no doubt
But one thing for certain
When it comes my time
I'll leave this old world with a satisfied mind.

--Joe "Red" Hayes and Jack Rhodes

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

From Her Heart

Ney Bailey has a newsletter that she puts out a couple times a year. Since meeting her in California 20 years ago I've been receiving it whether I forwarded my new address or not (and there have been many, many address changes). I'm glad.

In this season's letter, Ney quotes from William R. Newell's Romans Verse-by-Verse, words she carries around and tries to memorize. Here are a few:

"Grace is God acting freely, according to His own nature as Love; with no promises or obligations to fulfill; and acting of course, righteously---in view of the cross."

"Grace, therefore, is uncaused in the recipient: its cause lies whooly in the GIVER, in GOD."

"Grace, once bestowed, is not withdrawn; for God knew all the human exigencies beforehand; His action was independent of them, not dependent upon them."

"To believe and to consent to be loved while unworthy is the great secret"

"There is no cause in the creature why Grace should be shown, the creature must be brought off from trying to give cause to God for His Grace."

"The discovery by the creature that he is truly the object of Divine grace, works the utmost humility, for the receiver of grace is brought to know his own absolute unworthiness, and his complete inability to attain worthiness: yet he finds himself blessed--on another principle, outside himself."

"He has been accepted in Christ, who is his standing."

"He is not 'on probation'."

"Real devotion to God arises, not from man's will to show it; but from the discovery that blessing has been received from God while we were yet unworthy and undevoted."

On the bottom of the newsletter, Ney has a footnote:

"William R. Newell, Romans Verse-by-Verse, Kregel Pulications, 1994, pp. 245-247 (Originally published: Chicago: Grace Publications, 1945.) These words were taken from Newell's commentary at the end of Romans Chapter 6in a section titled "A Few Words About Grace"."

I hope you are encouraged about God's grace as I am.

Friday, May 14, 2010

It's Everywhere

Political World

We live in a political world
Love don’t have any place
We’re living in times where men commit crimes
And crime don’t have a face

We live in a political world
Icicles hanging down
Wedding bells ring and angels sing
Clouds cover up the ground

We live in a political world
Wisdom is thrown into jail
It rots in a cell, is misguided as hell
Leaving no one to pick up a trail

We live in a political world
Where mercy walks the plank
Life is in mirrors, death disappears
Up the steps into the nearest bank

We live in a political world
Where courage is a thing of the past
Houses are haunted, children are unwanted
The next day could be your last

We live in a political world
The one we can see and can feel
But there’s no one to check, it’s all a stacked deck
We all know for sure that it’s real

We live in a political world
In the cities of lonesome fear
Little by little you turn in the middle
But you’re never sure why you’re here

We live in a political world
Under the microscope
You can travel anywhere and hang yourself there
You always got more than enough rope

We live in a political world
Turning and a-thrashing about
As soon as you’re awake, you’re trained to take
What looks like the easy way out

We live in a political world
Where peace is not welcome at all
It’s turned away from the door to wander some more
Or put up against the wall

We live in a political world
Everything is hers or his
Climb into the frame and shout God’s name
But you’re never sure what it is

--Bob Dylan, Oh Mercy

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I'm Glad, Too! Lena Horne Video

The Fountain of



Youth is dull as paint
Methuselah is my patron saint
I've never been so comfortable before
Oh, I'm so glad that I'm not young anymore

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Old Woman

Dennis and I have a lot of young friends--since he is 53 and I'm turning 48 in a month or so almost everyone we know is younger in this college town. But I remember when I was in my 20' and I thought 30-somethings were really old. Most people in their 30's had gotten through a lot of the hurdles I had standing in front of me--finishing college, finding a spouse and a job and making some sort of home. For me at the time, I had difficulty thinking beyond spring semester much less graduation. So, 10 years was practically a lifetime from where I was standing.

The church I attended was on campus and everyone was a student. There were a few grown ups with small children, but I was surprised when an older couple in their 50's started attending. They invited us students over for dinner, were available for advice and counsel and just seemed really relaxed about everything. I can't remember their names, even though I had been over for dinner on occasion. But what they shared about their walks with God was unforgettable.

One Sunday, the older gentleman got up and shared his testimony and he started with "Most often, I feel like I'm 16 still inside even though a 59 year old is staring back from the mirror at me". It occurred to me that people over 30 weren't aliens from another planet, but understand very well what it meant to be 20 or 21. As I approached my mid-20's, I was increasingly more comfortable with people 20 or more years ahead of me. But not completely. Because of my past, I had troubles really trusting elders. Well, for the most part, anyone, young or old. But especially old.

I appreciate Neil Young's song "Old Man". Young had just had his first gold record and was buying some estate that he finally could afford and settle down in. The elderly caretaker who showed him around the property impressed him, and he wrote the song about him.



Sunday, May 02, 2010

Joni Mitchell is Right About Dylan

I never listened much to Joni Mitchell growing up, but her music was everywhere in the 60's and 70's. In high school, I was listening to the radio late one Friday night while working on a story for English class, my notebooks and papers scattered all around me on the living room floor a favorite program came on that played a whole rock album at a time with interviews with the artist in between cuts. That's how I learned about my favorite bands on FM rock radio while doing homework: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, The Moody Blues, Heart, Santana, etc... That particular night, I finally heard Joni Mitchell talk about her music and craft. I was impressed with her crystal clear Soprano and how she described coming up with her signature style--singing in the shower and letting the water hit her throat to make it undulate in an interesting pattern. I tried it later that night, it wasn't easy.

Right now, she's causing some controversy about her old friend Bob Dylan by calling him a phony, in so many words. In context of the interview, it sounds like she was getting rather irritated with the reporter making several comparisons between her and Bob, resulting in a testy response. She was making it clear that they had nothing in common, especially when it came to creativity and originality.

I agree with her. It was disrespectful because not often does the public give Joni Mitchell recognition for being as unique a musician/songwriter as she is. Not to the extent that Dylan is recognized and honored. Dylan strings along several phrases that he hears, reads and/or makes up on his own, to come up with something new from something old. It's interesting, but I'm not always convinced that what I'm hearing is really from his heart. Joni actually tells a story within a song that is visionary, poetic and from her emotions. She believes what she is singing, while Dylan works hard at making others believe that he believes.

Her music has always been complex, but as she has gotten older, they resonate even more with the intricate problems of intimacy and emotions. She became wiser and surer, but her life has not gotten easier. Maturity is coming to that place of knowing what to accept and what not to accept, of understanding where the true issues lie. Joni's work brings us deeper into the root of those things. Dylan, as much as I love his music, just wants to party on or vent, whichever of the two emotions is more pertinant. I have more of a connection with Joni Mitchell than Bob Dylan, but I prefer Dylan. He knows his audience needs music to vent or dance to, while Joni wants make an exploration and discovery.

As a freshman in college, when there was a shortage of dorm rooms, I had been thrown in with a senior for a roommate. I was 17 and she was 10 years older. I wouldn't exactly recommend it but one of the positives from that year was that she had quite the Joni Mitchell record collection and a really nice stereo. I had heard everything from Joni's work in the 60's, but her albums afterward I didn't hear much except for that radio program when I heard Don Juan's Reckless Daughter around 1977 or 1978. I especially liked "Jericho" for some reason.



Monday, April 26, 2010

Help Wanted




I spent last weekend at a collegiate women's retreat, I was speaking on Sunday morning and leading the prayer time. It was an honor and a big challenge. The theme was about trials, suffering and temptations. There were several older women invited to speak, ranging from a single woman pursuing her doctorate, to a busy young mom of two, to a mom who has been married 33 years. Saturday night, older women from our church brought food for dinner and were available to hang out and get to know the college girls. I was also part of a discussion panel later that evening made up of the guest speakers and four men--a couple of young fathers, a middle-aged dad also a grandpa and then Tom, in his late 60's. We fielded questions from the college women, which ended up mostly about sexual purity.

Which was really, the underlying theme of almost everything.

In preparing for a couple of weeks, I had a feeling for which direction I wanted to go in my sharing for Sunday morning, but the question was how deeply I needed to go. How much vulnerability was necessary? Along the way, I've learned to draw boundaries in what is appropriate to share and what isn't and now I found myself confused.

By Saturday night, I found what the girls needed to hear and from the cues from the other wonderful speakers, I knew that I had to go a little further than I had planned to. Carol, who had earlier shared an excellent and moving testimony about God helping her in her marriage, came up to my room to pray with me on Saturday night to help me prepare for the next morning. By that time, my fuzziness had turned into a resolved focus. It wasn't necessary to make myself into some kind of spiritual hero. But it was essential to glorify God for His rescue of this weak and meager sinner. Carol agreed with me that if we older women of the church didn't share the hard stuff, who will? It's a big tough hungry world out there.

Usually, in the last year or so of sharing a testimony, I have it nailed down and rehearsed for a month before having to present it. That time, I wrote it fully in a few hours, which included my plan for prayer time. And I wasn't nervous at all. I was eager to proclaim the excellencies of our Lord, who is faithful and good to me and came to my aid as I suffered big temptations in some really weak moments. That Hebrews 2:18 is true, true, and true.

Commentary on Hebrews 2 by Matthew Henry:

The angels fell, and remained without hope or help. Christ never designed to be the Saviour of the fallen angels, therefore he did not take their nature; and the nature of angels could not be an atoning sacrifice for the sin of man. Here is a price paid, enough for all, and suitable to all, for it was in our nature. Here the wonderful love of God appeared, that, when Christ knew what he must suffer in our nature, and how he must die in it, yet he readily took it upon him. And this

atonement made way for his people's deliverance from Satan's bondage, and for the pardon of their sins through faith. Let those who dread death, and strive to get the better of their terrors, no longer attempt to outbrave or to stifle them, no longer grow careless or wicked through despair. Let them not expect help from the world, or human devices; but let them seek pardon, peace, grace, and a lively hope of heaven, by faith in Him who died and rose again, that thus they may rise above the fear

of death. The remembrance of his own sorrows and temptations, makes Christ mindful of the trials of his people, and ready to help them. He is ready and willing to succour those who are tempted, and seek him. He became man, and was tempted, that he might be every way qualified to succour his people, seeing that he had passed through the same temptations himself, but continued perfectly free from sin. Then let not the afflicted and tempted despond, or give place to Satan, as if temptations made

it wrong for them to come to the Lord in prayer. Not soul ever perished under temptation, that cried unto the Lord from real alarm at its danger, with faith and expectation of relief. This is our duty upon our first being surprised by temptations, and would stop their progress, which is our wisdom

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings (Amazing Grace Intro)

Dinner Tonight


I start my shift at 2:30 today and so, I made dinner ahead of time to pop in the oven when I get home around 7pm. The recipe for the chicken parmesan is on Simply Recipes a food blog by Elise Bauer, only I couldn't find any reasonably priced chicken breasts for some reason, so I got more affordable chicken tenderloins. And I confess, I used pre-made marinara sauce. The chicken is in the baking dish, cooling down to be stored in the fridge until I get home tonight.
Thank you, Elise!


Love Well

A cover of Bob Dylan's "What Good Am I?" for those who don't know how great his songs are because you can't handle listening to his voice.

Why I like this song: In the Bible, there is a passage that is well -known about what love is. You might hear it at a lot of weddings, it is so poetic. But not many people know much about the verses that proceeds the passage that describes many natural and spiritual abilities, and how they all amount to nothing if we don't have love. What Bob has done with this song was to show how real love makes a real difference in our personal lives, as well as society. He once said that all his songs are protest songs. Here, he is questioning himself. I think it is a question we could do well to ask ourselves. The Bible also says that God is love. Since God loves perfectly and we do not, we need Him to love well--it's about our actions and our hearts.





What Good Am I?

What good am I if I’m like all the rest,
If I just turn away, when I see how you’re dressed,
If I shut myself off so I can’t hear you cry,
What good am I?

What good am I if I know and don’t do,
If I see and don’t say, if I look right through you,
If I turn a deaf ear to the thunderin’ sky,
What good am I?

What good am I while you softly weep
And I hear in my head what you say in your sleep,
And I freeze in the moment like the rest who don’t try,
What good am I?

What good am I then to others and me
If I’ve had every chance and yet still fail to see
If my hands are tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been?

What good am I if I say foolish things
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back while you silently die,
What good am I?

Sunday, April 04, 2010

happy easter


A Hymn To God The Father

Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallow'd in, a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, thou hast done;
I fear no more.


- John Donne

Saturday, April 03, 2010

npr--tiny desk concert

Jakob Dylan sings three songs from his about to be released album Women and Country in the office of npr for the employees. Songs are "Nothing but the Whole Wide World", "Everybody's Hurting" and "Holy Rollers for Love". It's ten minutes long and if you listen carefully, there are some mighty good biblical metaphors. (The first song reminded me of Matthew 5:1-11.) The album is produced by award winning T-Bone Burnett, whom I watched forego the mic during the Academy Awards telecast, letting his lesser known collaborator, Ryan Bingham, enjoy the limelight after winning an Oscar for Best Original Song, "The Weary Kind" from the movie Crazy Heart. Actions speak louder than words.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125475688

Check it out.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Deepening Our Conversation with God

(I've always liked this picture, but I don't know if the little girl is praying or getting distracted)

A friend asked me today what I learned from our church's prayer conference. Although I've been applying much of what I learned, I had a hard time articulating it. (So, Stephanie H., this blog is for you because of my lame answers earlier this afternoon). Our guest speaker was Ben Patterson and his topic was "Deepening Your Conversation With God". I have the book with the same title and after the conference was over, I saw that much that was covered in the messages are already in the book.


The most convicting thing I learned was about persistent prayer. That God welcomes and honors pray-ers who don't let up and are willing to keep praying despite no observable answers or even when God ignores you, like Jesus did with the Gentile mom with a demon possessed daughter who kept worshipping Him in total humility. Patterson doesn't soften the story about Jesus' callous responses to her. But despite the cold initial responses, He healed her daughter and praised the mom's faith--something He only did twice as recorded in the Gospels. That compliment He also bestowed on another Gentile man--a Roman soldier who had a sick servant.


I've prayed long and hard about many things that are still unanswered. Some of these requests I've finally abandoned. My excuse is that I'm trusting God, but I think what I'm doing is protecting myself. From the Scriptures, the people of great faith were the ones who "wrestled" with God, not the ones who walked away. So, I when I do that, it's because I don't want to get dirty anymore with the spiritual sweat that comes from working hard at prayer.


The other thing I'm applying is when I'm talking with Dennis, my husband, I will start praying in the middle of our conversation directing what Dennis and I just talked about with God. Yes, I know that God just heard what we said because He is omniscient. But Dennis and I really enjoy our time together this way. Louretta, Ben's wife, and I talked in the hallway after church and I shared a burden about a family member. Before I left after our chat, Louretta spontaneously prayed with me for my family right there where we stood--no looking for a prayer closet or a quiet place but right in front of the coffee pot the busiest place on a Sunday morning in our church.


I also was glad to be reminded that the busier we are, the more we need to pray, not less. When I'm busy, it is easy to whittle away at the quiet time hour until I'm reduced to praying in the car going to where ever, which sometimes gives way to not praying at all. If I'm stressed because of a full schedule, I need to plan a lot better so that I remember that it isn't about me and that I labour in vain unless it's the Lord who builds the house. A friend (and she's really busy) and I will meet to discuss a bible study based on Bill Hybel's "Too Busy Not to Pray."


So there you go, Miss Hays. What you deserved to hear but I was too inarticulate to give you!



Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I live in Michigan and enjoy four seasons. I haven't always lived in a place with four distinct seasons--some parts of California have basically two, and in Atlanta there's a winter that would be considered spring here. I've written in the past how the weather takes me by surprise--"Snow? Really?", "Hey, where did those flowers come from?", and my personal favorite: "What, no jacket, gloves, hat and scarf plus four layers of clothing?"

Right now, spring is ambushing me. We turned off the heat, opened some windows and the sunshine is streaming in. A loud bird is singing non-stop on our deck. It's just about 60 degrees right now. My neighbors are taking walks past my window wearing light windbreakers or hooded sweatshirts. Some green thing is poking through the mulch in the garden. After lunch, I'm taking a walk to the store to get potting soil to get some tomato seeds planted indoors. This morning the spring cleaning bug bit me and I organized and cleaned our bedroom closet. Oh yeah, and we had to change all our clocks.

Easter is a week and a half from now. It seems too soon. Dennis has been observing a Lent of sorts--no meat on Fridays, fish only and limiting desserts to once or twice a week (big deal for him). We both grew up Catholic and had some exposure to the Lent disciplines. In grade school to high school, I don't remember ever sticking to any abstinence of anything, although I did try something one year as in no sweets or desserts, which wasn't a big deal because I don't have much of a sweet tooth. I don't think I succeeded, because whenever I think of Lent I think of feeling guilty that I didn't give up a luxury for Jesus. I came to a point of wondering if it really mattered to Him if I didn't eat meat on a Friday, or abstained from a tasty cookie when I remembered that I had decided on it. I did manage fasting during Good Fridays sometimes, and I attended some Ash Wednesday services when I was an older teen. Short term goals of any type were more reachable for me back then.

Because I wasn't time or calendar conscious before Lent, I had no plan or purpose to practice any spiritual discipline of self-denial or fasting. But Holy Week is around the corner, and I have an opportunity now to make a few decisions on how I pursue a deeper focus on Jesus Christ my Lord and the Gospel. Maybe this weekend's Magnify Conference at my church, University Reformed Church can give some ideas.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pizza Love

I'm a pizza fanatic--any kind, any where. There are two reasons that I thank God that He created Italians--that they invented espresso and pizza. I want to go to Italy some day chiefly to experience both these pleasures in their original (not American) forms. Yet one of the things about pizza that I really appreciate is how creative you can be with what you put on it.

I'm making Easter brunch plans, we're having people over from other countries and who've never experienced the holiday before. What to eat is kind of tricky--other cultures have different food restrictions. Pork is a big minefield. Eggs are sometimes iffy--we have Hindu friends we want to invite who can't eat them. I usually make ham or breakfast egg and sausage casserole, but this year it would be inappropriate.

One of the candidates to replace or augment the old reliable casserole is Breakfast Pizza. I've seen some versions with scrambled eggs, but Smitten Kitchen's version has my attention with a raw egg baked on top with bacon. I'm thinking about using some other meat, like turkey bacon instead. I can prepare the pizza dough the night before and then have it ready the next morning for people to choose their own toppings, sans eggs or bacon or baconlike ingredients if they wish. There might be kids, so assembling a pizza could be fun for them, (along with decorating eggs). The pizzas take only 8-10 minutes to bake.

We'll have fruit salad, some veggies like asparagus, couscous and bruschetta on the side. If we have the money, we'll grill some lamb which some cultures are very familiar with. If it's a nice day, we could bring the whole shebang out on the deck but I can't recall a sunny Michigan Easter. If it isn't, we'll eat indoors and watch the Jesus film. I'm hoping that our guests will always remember this Easter--when they experienced some American hospitality, the Gospel and Breakfast Pizza.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Truth Sets Us Free


The hardest lies to deal with are the ones we tell ourselves. We know what the truth is, but we either sugarcoat it or flat out deny it. We build fantasies and exclude any hard cold realities that would confront it. We all do this, in varying degrees and styles. It's a survival mechanism, especially if we want to protect something or someone but more likely, protect ourselves. But then it can really be destructive because we try to protect ourselves at all costs, to the point that we would sacrifice someone else to do it.

For me, having people around who are not afraid to tell me that I'm fooling myself is invaluable. I prefer to have friends who are not afraid to hurt me for my own good. A long time ago, such a friend showed me my craziness and when I thanked her for it, she smiled and said that she ordinarily wouldn't confront people unless she knew they'd listen. My sisters and brother are also good sources of feedback--I need people who can ask me "What were you thinking?" I may not always agree, but it is good to know what people whom I love and trust are concerned about. For me, the ultimate in a relationship is loving someone else enough to help them see the truth while accepting them at the same time and putting up with their defensiveness. When I have that and can give that, then I know I have a real friendship.

These friends are not easy to find, and take a lot of time to cultivate once you do. So, I thank all my closest friends and family out there. Especially those of you who know the Gospel and live it every day. And thank you to God, who taught me to love the truth because He does, and that I can face it when I put my trust in Him. He liberates me.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Barista Memories

One of the fun aspects of my job is meeting interesting people. While I was a barista for Starbucks in Marietta, Georgia, I was cleaning tables in the cafe enjoying the music by Buena Vista Social Club. Nearby were some elderly Hispanic gentlemen sitting by the sunny window sipping some espressos. They were speaking Spanish and dressed very well for a quiet Saturday afternoon. I greeted them and they started a friendly chat with me about how glad they were that we had opened our store there recently. It reminded them of old times in Cuba. They especially liked the music that was playing, and told me it was Cuban. I had no idea. Later, when I had a break, I went to sit with them for 10 minutes and asked them to interpret the songs for me. The best break I ever had.

Friday, February 26, 2010

As Iron Sharpens Iron

Back when I was a student, I had the pleasure of meeting Helene Ashker for coffee when she visited our campus ministry. She was really excited, she had recently closed on a condominium in the Seattle area--she always had been living in apartments and for the first time she owned a home in her late middle aged season of life. As she was talking about this with a younger friend, her friend commented that after all that she had done in serving God, she deserved this. Helene responded with a blunt "I deserve hell."


The rest of our chat consisted of Helene quietly praising God for His care and grace towards her. Her love for God was genuine and from the heart--there was no forced phoniness or exuberant gushing of her emotions. Her emotions arose from her faith in God, her trust in His word and her appreciation of the Gospel. When Helene spoke of God, she glowed. My hour with her was disappointingly short, but her chat with me stuck with me for a lifetime. I wanted to love God like she did, and she loved God because she knew He first loved her.

Helene also knew that there was nothing that she did to earn God's love and salvation. Her relationship with Him was a precious gift of undeserved love, and she looked forward to eternity in Heaven because of Jesus' dying on a cross, suffering for the sins that she was guilty of. This gift was indescribably more precious to her than her lovely new condominium. Her true home was with God.

Helene modeled more for me than I know. In a short hour, she showed me how one's focus and perspective is truely affected by good theology. She didn't quote any verses, but everything she shared referred to the Scriptures--God's word clearly was treasured in her heart and life. She influenced me by not focusing on me at all--she didn't ask me all about my problems and hang ups but pointed me in a direction up and away from all my burdens and cares. And the fact that she was an effective evangelist just by being who she was and loving God didn't surprise me at all. She would have shared the same things with a nonChristian that she shared with me.

Helene was not a perfect woman, but she served and loved a perfect Savior. "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." Proverbs 27:17



Thursday, February 11, 2010

Not Just Another Pretty Pop Song

A video from "In Performance at the White House: A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement" Tuesday night at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Bob Dylan sings "The Times They are A' Changin'". Dylan wrote the protest song during an era when a group of American people were denied the ordinary voting rights of ordinary citizens based on merely the color of their skin. It's unfathomable to me that was ever an issue, but it was during my lifetime.

I remember as a kid in the '60's standing in line for a cheap Saturday children's matinee at the local movie theater. The kids were not treated equally, there was a black father with two daughters who had to wait until everyone else (all white) purchased their tickets and popcorn. I remember them patiently standing there until they were the last to be served. If you were last, you probably got the seats in the back of the theater, and it was usually crowded and hard to find a seat by that time. That the workers behind the counters could nonchalantly get away with this was shocking to me. As far as I could see, I was the only one observing what was going on, besides the parent and his daughters. No one else seemed to care. And I was only a second grader.

So, the song means something to me, in more ways than that one. But this is all for now from my personal experience. There is a reason why Dylan was asked to perform this particular song for this particular concert.

Dylan's song has a lot of metaphors, but he's also referring to real events. For instance, "don't stand in the doorway, don't block up the hall" points to Alabama governor Wallace's symbolic stand in the University of Alabama's auditorium doorway against the entry of two African American students.

When Dylan sang "you'll be drenched to the bone" he referred to the fire hoses used during the Children's Crusade in Birmingham, May 3, 1963:


When Connor realized that the Birmingham jail was full, on May 3 he changed police tactics to keep protesters out of the downtown business area. Another thousand students gathered at the church and left to walk across Kelly Ingram Park while chanting, "We're going to walk, walk, walk. Freedom ... freedom ... freedom."[67] As the demonstrators left the church, police warned them to stop and turn back, "or you'll get wet".[53] When they continued, Connor ordered the city's fire hoses, set at a level that would peel bark off a tree or separate bricks from mortar, to be turned on the children. Boys' shirts were ripped off, and young women were pushed over the tops of cars by the force of the water. When the students crouched or fell, the blasts of water rolled them down the asphalt streets and concrete sidewalks.---Wikipedia

Dylan was warning that the ones who were using the hoses on the protesters would find themselves completely submerged and drowning, but the flood wasn't water, it was thousands of black protestors taking over downtown Birmingham on May 7th. The mayor and the commissioner who ordered the water hoses and police dogs on the young demonstrators ended up handing in their resignations after a truce was made a few days afterward.

It's not just a pretty song. It commemorates ugly events that defeated ugly Jim Crow laws of segregation in public places in Birmingham.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Some Thoughts About My Life, Marriage and God

Last night, Dennis and I went out to an inexpensive dinner at our favorite place "Noodles & Company" and then to an MSU basketball game, with a nightcap of milkshakes at a late night diner. It wasn't the most romantic date we ever had, but it was a fun one. We enjoy each other's company now just as much (if not more) as we did before we even dated in college. When we were "just friends" without any expectations of "something more".

When "something more" did develop eventually, it was almost too exciting. I look at pictures of myself from back then, I was definately in some kind of exhilerated stupor. I held back my feelings about Dennis for a couple of years, and when we finally got to the place where we actually shared how we felt about the other, I guess all those supressed emotions just busted out all over the place.

Of course, I'm looking back, seeing all the good stuff, forgetting most of the struggles. I'm tempted right now to make it sound like everything was more perfect than it was. I'm tempted to gloss over the fact that Dennis and I were less the perfect people back then, just as much as we are now. And I've learned a lot since those emotionally heady days.

I'm a complusive journal keeper, and have been since middle school. But I didn't write much during our brief courtship. I think I poured all my writing energies into writing letters to Dennis during that time, since Dennis was working in California. I regret this now, because having a journal would help me be a lot more accurate in my memories. I do recall some days of feeling very strong and then others of feeling very vulnerable, especially in realizing that I had thrown my whole lot together with Dennis, who, like a man, took bigger risks and made bigger changes than I did my whole entire timid and narrow life. Would I truly go with this man?

After a few months, after Dennis made some more radical changes over the radical changes he just made--his path was not a straight or fearful one--I realized that going with this man would be impossible unless I go with God first. And every lesson along the way came down to that basic revelation. Through Dennis, God was going to rock my world, and He wanted me to trust Him. "Hold on tight, Thea, buck up and keep your eyes wide open looking for Me..." Well, that's my paraphrase of "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, For the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9

Marriage is many things, among them a friendship, a partnership, a companionship and an adventure. The relationship itself will have highs and lows, pleasures and pains as well as peace and struggles. There will be nonstop talking and also some phases of silence, but mostly something in-between. The profound knowing each other isn't something that happens in a year or even five. I think that really deep intimacy takes at least 10 years to appear in a marriage--at least. At least 10 years of failing and forgiving each other. Of learning how to understand each other's languages. Of spiritual fellowship. Of ministry partnering. Of supporting each other through losses and gains. Of mundane things. Of grace. Of transitions. Of repetitiveness. But biblically, marriage is a lot more than all this.

That God could take two wildly different people like Dennis and me and make us one is quite amazing. I wanted oneness from the get go--I imagined marriage to be like some Vulcan mind meld where Dennis would immediately sense what I was thinking and feeling and vice versa. And although marriage is being one with the other, spiritually and physically, I think that emotionally and mentally it takes more time, mostly because of our sin natures. When I dealt with my unrealistic expectations, I was able to enjoy our marriage a lot more. The Vulcan mind meld doesn't happen, if it is, then someone is fooling themselves by attempting to control the spouse. I love Dennis for the man he is--the separate human being God created and re-created him in Christ to be. I appreciate everything about him that is unique to him and no one else. And I marvel at the part of him that is joined to me that makes us "us".

Before Dennis proposed to me, I spent time with a friend who was in her 60's and had been married a while. She and her husband had been missionaries and were training missionaries at the time, as well as heavily involved with international student ministries. She said that learning how to adapt to change was vital in preparing for the mission field. I know for a fact that being an adaptable person was not my strong suit then, even though I was unaware of it. But over the years, God chiseled away at my inflexibility through Dennis among other things. Maybe that is why I have gone through so many addresses, more than anyone else I know. It took that much. Then working for a company that has gone through what my boss calls a "paradigm shift" in the last two years. In his evaluation recently, he stated that I adapted very well despite all the changes and transitions.

In other words, I have finally learned a little how to hang on, buck up and keep my eyes wide open for the Lord.