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.