Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sand Art

My little gram was a self-taught artist. Her art and creativity were gifts of herself she freely shared with others. Mostly she did oil paintings, reproductions of the Masters. But one habit of hers drove us absolutely crazy. She thought nothing of covering over the canvas of a finished work and starting again from scratch with a completely different subject. We never let her live down the fact that she once cut off Mona Lisa's hands - yes, she chopped the bottom twelve inches off that painting so she could fit it on a different wall - go figure. But you know, there was always art springing forth from her brushes.

I'm always amazed at another group of artists who specialize in disposable art: sand sculptors. (Check out this sand nativity, a yearly event on the island of Gran Canaria). I mean, they spend literally hours coaxing tiny granules of sand into representations of life, knowing full well it will eventually be ruined by erosion and the elements. But the sculptors return to the beaches, year after year, to delight crowds with the products of their imagination.

What is it about artists who can create and just as readily dismantle their creation? I think it has something to do with their ability to let go. They delight in the process as much as in the product. Not hanging onto the past enables them to move forward. In the emptying of themselves into their work, they create space in which to be filled up again with fresh ideas, much like a flowing fountain. The process is for them; the product is for others. No process, no product.

This speaks to me in so many ways. Right now I'm reading a book called Velvet Elvis, aptly subtitled "repainting the Christian faith." It's opened my eyes to how desperately we try to achieve a sense of permanence in our faith. We want cut and dried, tried and true, when the reality is, "Christianity" is always changing. Not God or the work of Christ, but how we experience it all, and more importantly, how we live out our faith.

Think about it - 100 years ago, chances are we might have attended a church where men and women sat on different sides of the aisle, and church services lasted well into the evening. Five hundred years ago, we might have been accused of witchcraft by our fellow church members, or made to sit in stockade for some infraction of rules. I think it's easy enough to recognize and accept changes that have taken place over the centuries. What's more difficult is accepting changes over recent decades. Kids today are not going to experience faith the same way we did growing up. Most likely you and I worship differently today than we did as children. It's kind of like snapshots of your kids. They capture a moment in time but they're not your kid - they're just an image. Can we accept this constant changing and reframing, or do we cling to the past, to the framed art hanging on the wall that no longer adds to the story?

This speaks to me in the area of writing as well. I'm coming to learn that writing is a continual process, and hanging onto a few well-strung words does nothing to give life to the process. It's like shutting off the fountain and staring into the still pool of water, even after it begins to stagnate. It's not the collection of water (or words) that gives life, it's the continual flow. The reaching deep inside myself and giving out and being content with that process. Always growing. Always changing. Or at least being willing to grow and change.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Hand in Hand

When I was a child, my sister and I often played in the nearby creek that ran under the road down from my gram's house in the country. We fancied ourselves fishermen, squatting on the shallow banks and swooping empty tin cans through the icy cold water, hoping to come up with a few minnows. Or we'd patiently watch for crayfish to poke their scary little pinchers out of their muddy homes and try to dig them up and fling them into the same tin cans. Oh yes, we were the fearless ones, steadying each other as we stepped, hopscotch-fashion, over the smooth stones, headed for the deeper waters and hopefully better fishing. Proud little adventurers in the great outdoors.

Yes, we were mostly fearless - except for the time my sister almost fell headlong into the creek. We were sprawled on the side of the road, dipping our "fishing poles" (tin cans on strings) into the water below. Somehow my sister slipped on the gravel and almost fell into the creek. Somehow I managed to grab her and keep her in the land of the living. Not that the creek was more than a seven or eight foot drop but to a little kid, it must have seemed like Niagara Falls. For days she retold the story of how I saved her life.

Isn't life a bit like playing in that creek? At times, we are the unsteady ones, trying to figure out the next best step. And then we are the steady ones, reaching back to help another traveler navigate where we've already been. Sometimes we are the stumbling ones, taking an unexpected tumble when life throws it's curves. Other times we are the more sure-footed ones, there to lend a rescuing hand. And this reaching forward and reaching back connects us all in a unique way, not unlike the silly chains of paper dolls we used to cut out as kids.

Hand in hand - isn't it the only way to go through life?

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Memory

I just read that this blogger needs to (among other things) install a lock on her son's bedroom door, and a rush of Christmas memories came to mind.

When we were kids, my mom never bothered to wrap our presents. Which suited us just fine. I mean, let's cut to the chase, right? Instead, she arranged my sister's and my gifts in matching piles on the couch or either side of the Christmas tree, which I think she usually set up on Christmas Eve.

Amazingly, these piles were perfectly symmetrical, mirror images of each other. Personalized bath towels. Matching, sometimes homemade, pajamas. New (also sometimes homemade) dresses - same style, different color. Cowboy outfits, complete with cap guns and holsters - just what every little tomboy wants!

And the dolls. Always the dolls. Every year there was a new doll for each of us, I guess to counter any potential negative effects of the cowboy paraphernalia and Hardy Boy books. Also amazing was the fact that every year I seemed to get the brown-haired doll with the red dress while Debbie got the blond-haired doll with the blue dress. Go figure.

Anyways, these laborious preparations kept Mom up quite late on Christmas eve. Her final touch was to secure the bi-fold doors with a rubber band, to keep little early birds at bay while she recouped from her late night endeavors.

Well, one year I decided to take matters into my own hands. As was (and still is) my habit, I was wide awake at some ridiculous hour. I tiptoed out into the hallway, pushed on the bi-fold doors until there was just enough room to get my little hand through and remove the rubber band. I then proceeded to rearrange the piles of presents a little more to my liking. I knew better than to mess with the personalized towels. My main objective was the doll. I wanted, no I needed - that blond doll with the blue dress. I was tired of red. I can't remember what else I did but after a bit, and perhaps a cereal snack, I somehow managed to secure those bifold doors again and tiptoe back to bed, quite pleased with myself.

On Christmas morning, I acted oh so surprised. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep, or maybe it was the blinding light from my dad's 8mm movie camera, but my mom never caught on to my clever antics! Until years later when I revealed my little secret and she confessed to a bit of Christmas morning confusion.

So yes, Sarah. You are wise to install a lock on the little boy's door. Perhaps it should be on the outside though!

Of Christmas, the Story

Been reading Glimpses of Grace, by Madeleine L'Engle, off and on this year. It's a collection of bits and pieces of her writings, from both her fiction and non-fiction works. I thought this reading from the other day priceless and especially appropriate during this season (paragraph breaks mine):

"Let's recover our story because we'll die without it. It's a life-giving story - this magnificent narrative we find in Scripture - if we are willing to read openly and to read all of Scripture, not just the passages selected to help us prove our point.

The God of Scripture can sometimes seem brutal, seen through the eyes of the early biblical narrator, who is looking at the Creator through crudely primitive eyes. But the God of Scripture is also the God who refused to nuke Nineveh, even though that's what Jonah wanted; who forgave David for a really staggering list of wrongdoings; who wants only for us stiff-necked people to repent and come home; who goes out into the stormy night for the one lost black sheep; who throws a party when the Prodigal Son returns; who loves us so much that God did indeed send his only begotten Son to come live with us, as one of us, to help us understand our stories - each one unique, infinitely valuable, irreplaceable."

Blessings to you and yours as you celebrate this wondrous birth.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Surprise, Honey!

The other day my husband had off work. I took the afternoon off to visit my sister on her birthday and run some errands. I called home around 5:00 pm just to see how his day off was going.

"Did you get to sleep in? Are you hungry? Should I bring something home?" He hasn't had many days off this year - in fact, this was his first paid vacation day in almost two years.

Before I hung up, one last hint, "Try to keep the house clean, okay?" (I just had it cleaned the day before and silly me - was holding my breath it would stay that way until at least my family gathering on Sunday. How much mess can two adults make?)

I got home at 9:00 pm, only to find the kitchen in shambles. The kitchen cupboards seemed to have thrown up all over the place! Things I hadn't seen for years were piled high on counters and table. I peered around the corner and saw hubby camped out in front of the kitchen sink and my heart sank a bit.

"Oh no, not a leak!" Our house is prone to plumbing blessings at inopportune times. I would not be surprised if the sink were leaking.

"Oh no, I just thought it would be a good day to hook up the ice maker."

Our fridge died this summer and the replacement model has an ice maker, something about which we are both a bit ambivalent, nevertheless a fun option we thought we'd hook up eventually. But four days before Christmas! I stood there for a few minutes, not sure whether to laugh or cry.

Any man reading this blog will scratch his head - who wouldn't be happy with an ice maker that you didn't have to nag to have installed? Any woman reading will see my point immediately - the mess. Which I was assured would be remedied in about five minutes. Ah, we know better, don't we?

Anyways, I decided to laugh! At least when my husband tackles plumbing projects, it gets done and done way beyond right. All the fixtures in my house bow down in agreement on this one! We lay in bed that night, listening with delight to the occasional ice cube drop, which caused MacGyver to get his hackles up and bark at the unseen beast.

And I realized something. This was exactly what I needed. No - not an ice maker. I needed to have my grip loosened a bit. My control (okay, make that CONTROL) tendencies tend to get a little out of hand. It's not that I need to control others, but I really expend a lot of energy trying to make sure every thing's just perfect. When it doesn't need to be. The kitchen is put back together, the gifts are mostly wrapped, the house is passably clean and the things that really matter . . . time with those we love . . . will be welcomed over the next few days.

So thanks, Mike, for the surprise that is way cooler than ice cubes! The gift of your precious time and a lesson to boot!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Things I Don't Get

Some things just make me scratch my head in wonder, especially around this time of year:

  1. Inflatable lawn decorations that mostly just look like oversized deflated balloons strewn about the lawn, except for the few hours each night they "come alive." They're kind of freaky, aren't they? But put a giant inflatable snow globe out there and suddenly it all comes together. Not!
  2. Tissue paper. I hate the whole tissue paper thing. Why do we need to use tissue paper when wrapping gifts in perfectly good clean boxes and bags? It just gets thrown away, right? Unless you're like my husband who insists we save boxes (good idea) and tissue paper (kind of annoying). I'm going to see if I can get away without the tissue paper this year on the very few clothing articles I'm giving as gifts!
  3. Stockings. Who ever got the crazy idea to hide stuff in giant oversized socks? I know, it has its roots in tradition but honestly . . . do we still need to hang socks around the house?
  4. The day after Christmas. I swear, some people live for this day. Why? To stand in line to return and exchange things because everything's marked down after Christmas? I know - I worked retail in a department store one Christmas - never again. People literally told me on Christmas eve that they'd be back the day after to exchange things so they could get a better deal! Go figure.
  5. Giving to get. By this I mean those super deals where YOU get something for yourself when you spend so much money. You know - buy $100 in gift cards and get a $20 gift card for yourself. Huh? Even Christian organizations do this . . . when you call now and pledge so much money, we'll send you a really nice calendar that you really don't need but we'll send it anyways cuz we're just nice that way and besides we have 5000 extra we need to get rid of. Really now, is it about the giving or the getting?
Now lest you think I'm a total Grinch, let me share a few things I totally "get" about Christmas.
  1. Olives. It's the one time a year I can eat entire cans of black olives and not feel bad (well, a little sick, yes but no guilt!)
  2. Nut roll. Nuff said!
  3. Starbuck's gift cards. Sorry but you can never have too many of these.
  4. Family Christmas newsletters. I know these have taken their share of bashing over the years but I truly love hearing what's going on in people's lives and hey, if Christmas is the time they feel compelled to share . . . bring it on! BTW . . . I still hear from my dear 7th grade teacher Mr. Witt every year. Well, actually it's his wife that sends a handwritten card updating me on their family doings. What a blessing to keep in touch with people, even if it only happens at Christmas.
  5. Kenny G "Miracles" CD playing on Christmas eve, sitting with Mike in front of the Christmas tree (which is barely decorated this year but with the lights on, you can hardly tell!) Just sitting, savoring the moment . . . until he can't take it anymore and the TV goes back on!

Monday, December 17, 2007

When Less Is More

There something unsettling about the consumerist mentality that rears its ugliest head this time of year. And most of us will admit, there's something unsatisfying about it all. At least for me, it's been an increasing realization over the past few years, that when all the fluff has been stripped away, when the wrappings and the trappings have been put aside, the stuff doesn't really matter at all. It's not often I blog about a sermon but two words from yesterday's message keep ringing in my head: consume less. A timely message indeed.

The focus of the message flipped between a look at what a consumerist society we've become, to Mary and Joseph, and what they gave up in obedience to God's plan. For Joseph, it meant giving up his rights, his pride, his social standing. Mary gave her very body to carry the Son of God. In short, they realized it was not about them. As I consider how to live out this idea of consuming less, it seems I must flip the phrase around and ask a few more questions:

What consumes me? What passions fuel my thoughts and drive my actions? And what if I were less consumed with me? If that were the case, wouldn't I naturally consume less? To me, the idea of consuming less ultimately implies a letting go of things temporal and taking hold of the eternal.

Christ came to change the way we relate to God. Shouldn't our celebration of his birth change the way we live? Right now, all I have is questions but hopefully the coming year will bring some answers.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Word of the Season: Wait

I've been torn between a "Word of the Week" post (but couldn't decide on a word), and a post about Advent. But it seems the Word of the Week takes care of both. Wait. And so a compromise, a word for the season.

Advent is a relatively new idea to me but over the past few years has become a beautiful and meaningful part of my holiday observance. Actually it's more like Christmas itself now has a proper place, a frame of reference within the bigger picture. It puts all the prophecies in perspective. And it speaks to me today, as I learn to wait, not only for the celebration of his birth, not only his coming again, but everyday, learning to wait on God and what he has for me to learn and do.

And yet . . . how do we wait? Is waiting passive? Or is it active? Is it a time to sit back and rest and do nothing? Or is it a time of doing, of moving ahead in obedience, of learning and preparation of our own hearts? Or is it both?

Having watched my sister go through five pregnancies, it seems waiting involves both. There was the doing - the planning, picking of names, preparing the nursery. And yet, I'm sure she'd say the resting was also important. The times of just praying and getting used to the idea, first of being a parent, then thinking about how each addition would change their family dynamic. Yes, it seems waiting well involves both a sense of expectation as well as preparation.

My last thought about waiting. I always thought of myself as a patient person. I'm not sure patience can be equated with waiting though. And as I've pondered this word over the past few days, I'm certain that waiting is more a skill to be learned than an innate character trait.

So that's it - the Word of the Season. What's on my mind these days! Something for us all to ponder during this season: how are you waiting?

Friday, December 07, 2007

1923 and Girl's Night In

Some interesting events of 1923:

  • March 1 USS Connecticut decommissioned.
  •  March 2 - Time Magazine hits newsstands for the first time.
  • April - End of Irish Civil War.
  • The House that Ruth Built: Yankee Stadium opens in New York City.
  • June 18 - Etna volcano erupts - 60,000 made homeless.
  • July 19-20 night - Assassination of Pancho Villa.
  • August 2 - Warren G. Harding, 29th President of the United States, (1921 - 1923) dies in office and is succeeded by Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929).
  • September 10 - Ireland joins League of Nations.
  • November 12- Her Highness Princess Maud of Fife marries Captain Charles Alexander Carnegie in Wellington Barracks, London.
  • December 12 - In Italy, the Po river dam bursts - 600 dead.
  • Rainbow Trout introduced into the upper Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park
But wait . . . this post is not about the year 1923! It's about the number of emails in my inbox (work). HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN??? My friend Katrina will be so ashamed of me. Now I do manage my personal email much better, thanks to her challenge - I keep it to 20 or less usually and the ones in my inbox are there for a reason.

Enough about email though. For the first time in a while, I was home tonight before 6:30pm. Mike started a fire in the wood stove before he left to go help a buddy (gotta love those guy things!) and I'm fixing to hang out in front of the fire tonight and watch The Wool Cap (a remake of Gigot which I've never seen). I'll probably start to drag out the Christmas stuff while I'm at it. The tree will have to wait until Mike is around. It's kind of a tradition for me to put it up on Sunday nights during the football game, taking time to reminisce about the various ornaments we've picked up on vacation, and read through our growing pile of Christmas cards we've given each other over the years. The ornament thing has become a fun cheap vacation souvenir thing for us, and the cards . . . well it's just a silly tradition but we always mark each card with the year and it's fun to look back over the years and remember stuff.

No More Lies

Still poking my way through Ephesians. Wow, I just looked back and I've been reading Ephesians since July, interspersed with the Psalms and different scripture passages associated with the weekly messages at church. I felt like I was cruising right along, reveling in glorious passages like the following verses from Chapter 1:

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

Chapter 2 was reassuring - that because of Christ, I belong - plain and simple. Chapter 3 was enlightening - full of good words like grace and power and freedom and confidence.

And then I hit Chapter 4. Or it hit me - still not sure which is accurate! Ever come to one of those passages in scripture that just won't let you go? Starting out in vs. 1-16 with this idea of calling, or vocation (which is a beautiful word) that Paul speaks of, followed by a challenge to "grow up in Christ." And then, as if God knew I wasn't getting it on my own, two weeks of messages at church were focused on this passage - thanks God!

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Coming down to verse 25 now, Paul gets very practical. How does all this look in our daily lives? And he starts with this challenge:

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.

Huh? I think the KJV puts it this way: Lie not one to another. Pretty basic, isn't it? I like how the Message puts it:

What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ's body we're all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.

Um. Ouch! So I've been thinking about this lying thing lately. Wondering what kind of lying the first century Christians struggled with, such that Paul needed to come right out and admonish them to stop. I have a feeling it went a little deeper than "no, I didn't take any cookies from the cookie jar." And I know it goes deeper for us today. Hasn't this issue of truth-telling been the great struggle since Eve's conversation with the serpent back in the garden?

So what kind of falsehoods do we need to put off? And how do we speak truth to our neighbor? Is it just the "speaking the truth in love" type of truth - "you've got spinach in your teeth" - that kind of truth we dare to share with someone we love? Have you ever done that and what was the outcome? What about being honest about ourselves with one another? And what about this idea of lying to ourselves - why and how do we do that? (I thought it was a bit of a stretch at first, that phrasing from the Message, but then if we are really members of one body, isn't lying to ourselves connected with being honest with each other?)

These are just questions - things I'm pondering. I'd like some input here if you have any thoughts. Since I don't have comments enabled (maybe in January) shoot me an email and I'll work them into a follow-up post on this topic (I won't use any names, just a first initial).

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Kindness of God

I'm in my car for over an hour every day, and this is my primary time for worship and reflection. Once again I find myself contemplating some words from a Chris Tomlin song Kindness from his album Live:

Open up the skies of mercy
And rain down the cleansing flood
Healing waters rise around us
Hear our cries lord let 'em rise
Open up the skies of mercy
And rain down the cleansing flood
Healing waters rise around us
Hear our cries lord let 'em rise

It's your kindness lord
That leads us to repentance

Your favor lord, is our desire
It's your beauty lord
That makes us stand in silence
Your love
Your love
Is better than life

I've been thinking about this kindness of God over the past few days. It's one of those concepts that I can't quite get my head around. It goes along with the idea of grace that I posted about recently, that God is for us. But this being for us, this kindness does more than just make us feel secure and accepted. It changes us, transforms us. It leads us to repent, to change our ways, what we could not otherwise do on our own.

Looking this phrase up online, I found it (among other places) in Romans 2:

Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?

I can't ignore the first part of that verse: how do I show contempt for God's kindness? It seems preposterous, that I would thumb my nose at God's goodness towards me. And yet the context seems to indicate that's exactly what I do when I dare pass judgment on others, when I fail to see others as Jesus does. Yikes. Once again, I am reminded that my relationship with God goes hand in hand with how I relate to others.

The kindness of God. It's for you. It's for me. It's for everyone, without partiality. Do we believe it? Accept it for ourselves? Live in the wonder of it? Share it with others?

Friday, November 30, 2007

This and That and a Review

I can't sleep. So I might as well blog, right? Never mind that in two hours I need to get up for what promises to be at least a ten hour day, probably twelve, given that it's month end. Someone in our group is retiring today after thirty-nine years with the company. We're thrilled for him, of course. But so far it doesn't look like he's being replaced, and we're starting to realize he did way more than we ever realized. Why oh why don't we appreciate people until it's too late?! Prayers for sanity would be appreciated.

If nothing else, this is forcing me to really simplify Christmas this year. Although I've never been one to go overboard (one friend was amazed that I don't even like to put up my tree until a week or two before Christmas), I usually do have most of my shopping done by now. For one simple reason: December is for baking! And I will not let the holidays slide by without making at least two or three batches of nut rolls. Mmm, just the thought of working with that wonderful dough, wrapping them up to give as gifts and then a slice or two with butter on Christmas transports me to a pretty good place!

I've been meaning to review a good book I read a month or so ago: The Jesus Creed, by Scot McKnight. Unfortunately I returned the book to the library before I could review it properly. Nevertheless, several ideas lingered with me that are worth sharing.

The premise of the book is that the command found in Deuteronomy to "love the Lord thy God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" was central to the Judaic belief system. More than just some nice sounding words to hang on a plaque inside the family home, these words were drilled into the hearts and mind of Jews from the time they were children. Then along comes Jesus and expands upon that creed by adding the phrase "and your neighbor as yourself." According to McKnight, that was the creed by which Jesus lived and the rest of the book illustrates that point with stories from Jesus' life. A few words come to mind from my reading:

Kingdom: Scot puts forth the best idea I've ever heard about the kingdom of God and/or heaven; that is, kingdom as society. i.e. the kingdom of God consists of all of those who have trusted Christ. It's more than just something to look forward to someday. It's here. It's now. And it should change the way we live.

Table: Scot points out how often people gathered with Jesus to share a meal. Simple concept. But this was revolutionary in Jesus' day, that a teacher such as Jesus would welcome the least desirable members of society into such an intimate setting. How welcoming are we of others?

Women: As I read the stories of women whom Jesus spent time with during his time here on earth, one thought stood out to me. That Jesus thought a lot more highly of women than many of us do about ourselves and our roles. 'Nuff said.

Lastly, forgiveness: Scot points out that, with the exception of the story of Joseph forgiving his brothers, forgiveness in the OT was mostly about the vertical relationship between God and man. Jesus comes along and says that same forgiveness we receive from God needs to be extended to one another. A totally different way of relating to others.

For the past two years, I've enjoyed poking my way through one of the gospels over a period of several months. This year it was Mark; last year it was John. So a book that highlighted the ministry and mission of Jesus was a real treat for me. A few things in this book made me scratch my head and wonder if I agreed, but I'm okay with that. If my reading doesn't stretch me and challenge me to think at times, what's the point? Overall, this was one of those paradigm-shifters - a very worthwhile read.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Pairs Well With . . .

I have to laugh at the power of suggestion that restaurants and coffee shops put forth when they tell you what wine or dessert "pairs well with" a particular meal or blend of coffee. Yet today as I popped in an old standby favorite worship CD, I thought to myself this pairs well with what I'm reading right now.

What I'm listening to: Revival In Belfast II by Robin Mark, and especially this song "Work A Miracle in My Heart."

We are called to be prophets to this nation,
To be the word of God in every situation;
Change my heart, change my heart today.
Who'll be the salt
If the salt should lose its flavour?
Who'll be the salt
If the salt should lose its flavour?
Change my heart, change my heart today.

Lord, Loose the chains of opression;
Lord, set the captives free.
Lord, fill my heart with Your compassion:
shine Your light, shine Your light,
shine Your light through me.

Work a miracle in my heart,
work a miracle in my heart,
work a miracle in my heart, O Lord, today.

Lord, take all of my lies, and all of my greed;
Let me be a sacrifice
For those who are in need.
Change my heart, change my heart today.
Lord, without Your power
It's all just good intentions;
Lord, without Your grace
Who could find redemption?
Change my heart, change my heart today.

Pairs well with . . . Celtic Daily Prayer. Praying certain written prayers has added a new dimension to my prayer life over the past few months. Far from being superficial and rote, the prayers in Celtic Daily Prayer are rooted in the prayers we read through out scripture. Starting with the Morning Prayer each morning helps me settle into a time of quiet before spending time in God's Word. And stopping to read and pray the words of the Evening Prayer at the end of my day helps me remember to slow down and reflect on God's presence in my life through out that day. In no way has this replaced my personal prayer time, only enhanced it. In addition to providing a helpful daily prayer focus and devotional reading, being of Irish heritage I especially enjoy the interesting tidbits about the early Christians of the Celtic era.

Like decaf Komodo Dragon with Chocolate Cinnamon bread, I'm enjoying these two complementary blessings these days.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Eight Things

My friend Bev (and she's a FIRL too!) at Scratchin' the Surface posted this meme and I thought it a good way to jump start the post-holiday idea deficit (that's code for I've eaten entirely too much and had way too much coffee and stayed up way too late to come up with anything worthwhile right now!)

Eight Things I'm Passionate About
Reading, mostly non-fiction these days
Really good coffee
Peaceful quiet mornings
Baking (so glad Christmas is here, giving me a good excuse to bake!)
The chance to be creative
Learning about spiritual growth
Really good worship music

Eight Things To Do Before I Die
Get published(!)
Visit Ireland and Scotland
Spend a whole lot more time with my nieces and nephews
Learn to knit well
Read everything Madeleine L'Engle ever wrote
Learn to bone out a turkey and make turkey roll
Finish all the projects I've ever begun
Go to a Chris Tomlin concert

Eight Things I Say Often
Holy Pete!
I don't have time to worry about . . .
God is so good
I don't know, what do you want to do, Marty?
And your point is?
Now what did I come down here to get?
Gyver, where are you supposed to be with that toy?

Eight Books I've Read Recently
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Abba's Child by Brennan Manning
Listen by Keri Wyatt Kent
1,001 Low-fat Soups & Stews
How People Grow by Cloud & Townsend
Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts
Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell
The Journey of Desire by John Eldredge

Eight Songs I Could Listen to Over and Over
I Can't Smile Without You (yes, that's Barry!)
My Endless Love by Eddie Rabbit & Crystal Gayle
The Soundtrack from Dragonheart
Indescribable by Chris Tomlin
Glory to the King by Matthew Ward
Anything from Jim Brickman on The Gift CD
Made to Worship by Chris Tomlin
The Heart of Worship

Eight Things That Attract Me to my Best Friend
His sincere blue eyes
His integrity
His tender heart
His wacky sense of humor
His loyalty to his friends and devotion to his family
His sensitivity to the needs of others
His appreciation for anything I cook (well, almost anything)
His ability to figure out and fix just about anything

Eight Things I've Learned This Year
Not to take myself too seriously
I'm too much of a perfectionist
The importance of locking my car doors!
God always provides
How to cast on, knit and purl - much more to learn
The priceless value of a true friend
How much I don't know about living the Christian life
How important it is to just be quiet and listen to God . . . often

If your fishing for fodder for your next post, consider yourself tagged!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Pre-Holiday Thoughts

Are you merely putting on your game face for the holiday season, wondering how you're going to get through it all?

Perhaps you're wondering where the physical strength will come from to tackle the cleaning you need to do or lug that huge bird into a roasting pan on Thanksgiving morning.

Perhaps you're feeling mentally and emotionally drained at the thought of family get-togethers, which can be just plain stressful at times, but more so when you're supposed to welcome them with a smile on your face, just because it's the holiday.

Maybe you're nervous about hosting a crowd for the first time and wondering if your efforts will be good enough.

Perhaps you're wondering where the finances will come from, even just to feed a few extra mouths.

Are you dreading the travel, wondering how the kids will hold up with the car trip and missed naps, or still thinking of all you have to do to get ready to go away?

Perhaps you're already feeling the pressure of the Christmas season, pressure to go and do and shop and buy and be . . . expectations thrust on us from without . . . that conflict with who we are in Christ.

Or maybe you're dreading the thought of being alone on yet another holiday.

Then let me share these words from my reading this morning, in hopes that they will bless and lift your spirits, as they have mine:

Even though the day be laden
and my task dreary
and my strength small,
a song keeps singing
in my heart.
For I know that I am Thine.
I am part of Thee.
Thou art kin to me,
and all my times
are in Thy hand. Alistar MacClean (from Celtic Daily Prayer)

I know this is a rather strange holiday post. There'll be plenty of time for thankful thoughts and sharing memories. But it's no secret that holidays can be a most stressful time of year, even for those of us who know the Lord and the "reason for the season." So maybe a better starting point is just admitting our need and letting God take it from there.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Word of the Week: Grace

I wanted to title this post "Living in Grace." Sounds lovely, doesn't it? Only thing it, it wouldn't be quite honest. Let me explain.

My mom tells me that when I was a baby, and she couldn't get me to sleep, all she and my dad had to do was pop me in the car and go for a drive. (No doubt that contributes to my inability as an adult to stay awake in a moving vehicle. I really strive to do so when I'm behind the wheel!) Although I experienced many a midnight ride, I was unaware at the time. I was there, but not.

So it's been with the work of grace in my life. Have I been the recipient of grace? Absolutely. Can I recite the definition and many scriptures on the subject? Since I was a child. Have I been living in it – aware of God’s grace? I have to admit that I never really grasped the idea of grace, or gave it much thought, for that matter. In the last week or so, however, God has brought me face to face with the word grace many times over - through songs, scripture and the words of others. And that's usually a cue for me to pay attention. Hence, the word of the week (or perhaps month or year).

In a book I'm reading*, I just finished a chapter entitled (not surprisingly) The God of Grace. This statement jumped out at me: “Grace that leads to true life transformation is one of unmerited favor – the understanding that God is truly for us and that he will provide what we cannot provide for ourselves. Grace means that we receive the gifts we need for growth to occur.”

I was reminded in an email recently that God's work in my heart is a gift of grace. Even the ability on my part to cooperate with God's work is a gift. Likewise, I was encouraged to share this grace as well. I love to be challenged in my thinking, and I certainly was in this case. My immediate realization was that grace is always available to me, in any given situation. Several questions come to mind: what do I do with that grace? Do I accept the grace that is offered to me? And what does it mean about my relationship with God if I choose not to avail myself of it? And what holds me back from sharing it?

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, it seems fitting to be reminded to receive and live in the grace that God gives us, as well as to extend it to others, in big ways and small.

Grace. It's a good word!

How People Grow by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Shut Up and Eat It!

For me, blogging is like making soup. It's important to get the right flavors together . . . and give them time to marry. You can't rush good soup. And I can't just toss out a post until it's "soup."

I haven't felt like blogging much in the past few days. But I did feel like making soup today. (And usually when I'm cooking is when the posts come together - go figure!) So I thought I'd make some Manhattan clam chowder. Mmm. I sauteed the vegetables in some butter, added some wine and transferred that all to my crockpot, since I need my stove to start the stuffing for Thanksgiving.

I couldn't find my usual cans of chopped clams at the store and minced clams just don't do anything for me - I don't like having to guess if there really are clams in my chowder or merely the flavor of one! Never one to downgrade, I opted for the "fancy select baby clams." Opened them up and dumped them in the saucepan to saute for a bit - ugh!

Now I am not a squeamish person. Not really. I am the chief bug and spider killer in our house and I don't faint at the sight of blood. But I have always had this thing about ocean life. It freaks me out. Yet there in my saucepan were these whole little creatures that used to be alive! Fancy, my foot! I'm certain they belong in an aquarium somewhere - not in my soup!

Now what do I do? Literally, I thought about dumping them and running to another store to get my chopped clams. But I can't waste money like that, and besides - there's that stuffing to tend to!

So I said to myself, "Shut up and eat it!" And I will, when it's soup (or chowder, or mass murder of tiny little mollusks - whatever you want to call it!) And next time I'll remember, bigger is certainly not always better!

And see . . . I told you I can always cook up a post when I'm making soup!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Overwhelmed by Love

"How was your weekend?" my coworker asked.

I wonder if she'd understand if I responded, "Overwhelmed by love."

- Feeling loved by my husband who has been so undemanding these last few weeks when I've been working long hours. Thankful he never asks "when are you going to vacuum?" or complains about leftovers! He did dishes twice this weekend and laundry was a team effort.
- Feeling loved by my sister as we spent some time together Saturday afternoon. I love how our hearts are always close even though we live too far apart (okay, it's only an hour but still too far!)
- Feeling loved by my parents whose eyes light up whenever they see me (and inevitably my dad start whistling "our song" - wouldn't you like to know!)
- Feeling loved by several friends, new and old, who have reached out to me in big ways and small lately. Thankful for the gift of their friendship and the iron-sharpening relationships we share.
- Feeling loved and blessed by my community of faith (yes, I think I can say that now).
- And feeling especially loved by my God and King. I've been listening to these lyrics by Chris Tomlin lately from his song "How Can I Keep From Singing" on his album, See the Morning.

How can I keep from singing Your praise
How can I ever say enough
How amazing is Your love
How can I keep from shouting Your name
I know I am loved by the King
And it makes my heart want to sing

After that CD died on the way to church yesterday morning, I started listening to his " Live" CD (and I'm usually not a fan of "live" recordings) and was so blessed by these lyrics from the song, "Indescribable." Do you think listening to the same song over and over again wears out the CD?

Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name.
You are amazing God
All powerful, untamable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God
Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name.
You are amazing God
INCOMPARABLE, unchangeable
You see the depths of my heart and You love me the same
You are amazing God
You are amazing God

I know it's about loving well, as well as being loved, but being loved helps us love well, don't you agree? I hope you too are feeling loved today, and seize any opportunities God brings your way to love well!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Snorting and Snoring

Most of you don't know that I have two little boys. Yes, I do. Never mind that one is six months older than me and the other weighs about sixteen pounds and is covered with fur. These are the two little boys that live at my house.

Bedtime at our house is not much unlike bedtime with a house full of kids. There are snacks to be had and that one last drink of water. There's all kinds of putzing around, some chatting - anything to delay the inevitable lights out. Because the older one makes these a priority, the little one has decided to follow suit. Go figure.

But tonight, the little one (and yes, we're the kind of people that gasp! let our dog sleep with us!) really went to town. He's picked up this strange habit of hiding his Milkbone biscuit snacks until later. Do you know how annoying it is to step on one of those in the middle of the night?

Well, tonight he decided he must have that snack before he could go to bed. Only problem is I had picked it up earlier and placed it safely on the dresser, where bare feet do not tread! The older boy is on his way to la-la land, having embedded ear plugs into his ears. Good thing because the noises the little guy made looking for that treat were amazing. Um, kind of like a hyperventilating pig, snorting and nosing all over - "where'd I put that thing!" When he gets something in his mind, he cannot be distracted.

Finally, I just got up and gave him the darn thing. I mean, what's worse - the snuffling noises or the crunching? After the crunching was over, the snuffling continued until every last little crumb was gone. Then we needed a big noisy drink of water, followed by a few proud belches. At last - he's ready for bed. It's about time. He plops himself down between us with this oh so shameful look, as if he's eaten the cookies left out for Santa or something! Then we needed belly rubs and assurances that he's the best little boy in the world. Finally, he made his way towards our pillows, indicating he's ready to crawl under the covers, and he kind of collapsed by my feet.

He was promptly sawing logs within two minutes, soon joined by the other little boy. And I'm out here on the couch, typing this post! What does that tell you!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

More Thoughts on Listening

Just the other day I realized that I tend to submerse myself in that which I feel strongly about, to the exclusion of that with which I disagree. Now I believe there's value in feeding my mind and soul with good things, but this realization made me pause and think - am I as open-minded as I think I am? Can I, for instance, read a book by an author, even and perhaps especially, a Christian author about whom I might have some misgivings? Can I be open to someone's very different political opinions . . . instead of pulling the "I don't like conflict card" and tuning them out? Can I listen to others and learn from them or perhaps at least learn what makes them tick, and value them as a person, no matter what their views or opinions might be?

And then I read this quote on my Starbucks cup this morning:

"You can learn a lot more from listening than you can from talking. Find someone with whom you don't agree in the slightest and ask them to explain themselves at length. Then take a seat, shut your mouth, and don't argue back. It's physically impossible to listen with your mouth open." John Moe

Just something I'm thinking about today.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Falling Leaves

After church last week, I headed for the nearby trail, hoping to get at least one more walk in before the leaves are all gone. A question lingered in my mind after the message at church: "How bad do you want it? How deep is your desire to grow?" A few thoughts came to mind as I walked along, picking up leaves that appealed to me.

Abandon. That's how the leaves fall. They just let go. Am I willing to let go? and what do I need to let go of?

Face down. See that oak leaf on top there? It's face down. All the oak leaves for some reason seemed to land in this face down position. Am I willing to be face down before God? Hmm. I've had a CD called Facedown on my list for some time now; perhaps it's time to go ahead and spring for it (absolutely no pun intended!)

I've always been fascinated by the whole leaf-changing thing, from the time the first blush of fall appears in the multi-colored patchwork of treed hillsides to when the last leaf relinquishes its clinging grip on the the mother tree. When I was a kid, I took great pleasure in decorating our front window for fall, with leaves I'd gathered from our yard. Then I went through the whole pressing leaves stage . . . for what?

I started to do so with the pile in the picture above and then I realized, no . . . there will be more leaves next year. I let them decorate my buffet for the last week, in their natural brilliant state. Now they look rather different, kind of curled up and colors fading. I'll probably toss them in the next day or so.

I'm reminded when I look at these leaves that change is a process. It's not overnight. We may get a hint of it first, if we're paying attention to the stirrings of our heart. We may experience a feeling of discontent or struggle, all before we realize God is doing something in our lives. And then, like the fall foilage at its peak, we begin to embrace the changes, secure in the knowledge that God is at work. And then we move into acceptance, and we are changed. I'm oh so glad I don't wake up one September morning and find the leaves changed overnight. And I'm just as thankful that God's work in our lives is a gentle process.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Word of the Week: Listen

Sometimes I have so many thoughts bouncing through my head that it really takes an effort to just be quiet and listen. Being quiet is one thing; intentional listening is another. And yet I'm finding out that, far from being a state of passivity, active listening involves some questions. Sometimes in response to the stirrings in my heart, it does good to ask "God, what are you trying to teach me? What are you wanting me to do?"

I notice I tend to block out negative feelings and even beat myself up for what I'm thinking or feeling. They are, after all, negative . . . and we've been (or at least I've been) conditioned to think "rejoice in the Lord always . . . " - stuff the feelings and move on. Instead I've been trying to just listen to what's going on in my heart. Why am I frustrated? What's my deep longing here? What would God have me do? And what would that be like? I'm learning to:

  • Listen to discern
  • Listen patiently
  • Listen and obey
I notice when I do stop to listen, God doesn't blow me off - imagine that! He's totally okay with me bringing even the negative parts of myself to him. Sometimes it takes another person to help in this listening process, and I'm thankful for people in my life who do that. And I notice the more I listen to my own life, the more I'm learning to listen attentively to those around me.

God is already listening . . . why don't we join him?

A helpful resource for me has been a book I reviewed previously, entitled Listen: Finding God in the Story of Your Life, by Keri Wyatt Kent. I highly recommend this book!

Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness. James Thurber

"Eat Mor Chikin"

Chick-Fil-A is pretty smart, enlisting the help of the poor maligned cow himself to encourage us to "eat more chikin!" I realize, it's simply a marketing strategy but you gotta admit, it's a pretty clever one. It's one I wish politicians would use, rather than resorting to negative campaigning. (Is it possible cows are smarter than most politicians?)

Last year, I decided to make some major changes in my eating habits. I reached a turning point when I stopped worrying about what not to eat and began focusing on the good stuff. When I feel myself getting off track, I don't think about what I need to cut out. I refocus on how to get more good into my diet. When's the last time I had a fresh salad? An apple? Perhaps a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast beats chocolate cinnamon bread or a Krispy Kreme donut for breakfast. And those ccaaafffeeeiine jitters? Obviously I need to drink a little more water (okay, make that a lot more water). The more I intentionally plan to eat right, the easier it becomes and the more good foods become the mainstay of my diet.

In the same way, I am finding the “eat more chikin” principle true in the spiritual arena. A lot of the Christian life tends to be focused on "negative campaigning," so to speak. Make no mistake, there are things we need to turn away from or "put off," as Paul encourages us to do. And we're called to abstain from food (fasting) and work (resting) at times. But the focus is not what we turn from but rather what we're turning to.

Maybe it's oversimplification, but it seems the more I spend my time filling myself up with good things, in the physical and emotional realms, as well as the spiritual realm, the less room there is for those things that drag me down. The challenge is prayerfully and intentionally making those good things a regular fixture in my life.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I Got Nothing

Lots of thoughts; nothing coming together yet. But that's okay, because my sweet friend Katrina has a wonderful post about outriggers and canoes . . . well, just trust me and go read it, okay?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Standing and Pedaling

So I just can't seem to get the hang of standing and pedaling while riding my bike. You know, that technique that would give you a bit of extra power when tackling a hill (or in my case, the smallest of grades!)

Anyways, while enjoying a bike ride Sunday, I attempted again to get the hang of this - forget it. I just can't do it! I can't risk falling! But for some reason, it brought to mind that verse in Romans 5:1-2 that is paraphrased so beautifully in the Message: By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that's not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise. (Romans 5:1-2 MSG)

Just a few thoughts tossed around as I pedaled:

1) Am I able to stand tall . . . am I becoming confident in the grace of God to face each day, each next step? As with everything else in our lives, it's a day-by-day, step-by-step process.
2) Am I helping others stand tall? Am I praying for and encouraging others in their walk? The picture of Moses standing tall because Aaron and Hur supported him comes to mind . . . a beautiful picture of the body of Christ working together!
3) (This is the hardest one for me) Am I able to accept the help of others in learning to stand tall . . . in my daily walk? Can I ask for and welcome the prayers, advice and help of others when needed?

Standing tall . . . bold and confident . . . we have every reason to do so in Christ!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

One Thing

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all the needs around you and all the causes striving to meet those needs? Entire families displaced by catastrophes and natural disasters. Starving children at home and abroad. Homeless people sleeping under the very bridges we drive across on our way to work. Single mothers struggling to make ends meet. Grown men fighting the power of addiction on a daily basis. It's almost easier to look away than it is to ponder what God would have us do. Where do we begin?

One night this summer, I was with a friend when she got a phone call from someone asking for money, which she knew would be used to satisfy a substance addiction. Wisely she recognized the vulnerability of this situation and referred the caller to a pastor. Nevertheless, as we drove through her neighborhood which skirts some of the roughest parts of our city, we pondered the question, "What can we do?"

I read through at least one of the gospels every year and am always struck by the integration of Jesus' social outreach with his preaching/teaching ministry. Almost everywhere you find him healing someone, casting out demons or raising someone from the dead. Even after long days of teaching, he was sensitive enough to the physical needs of the crowd - enough to ensure their hunger was satisfied. From the gospels, we see that Jesus cares about the whole person. Shouldn't that be our focus as well? But again, the question comes - where do we begin?

The answer, I think, is made plain in Jesus' approach to ministry. He didn't wave his hand over the crowds and forgive sins or heal the sick en mass. No, he healed them one at a time. He broke bread and with the help of his disciples, fed the multitudes one person at a time. And he forgave their sins, one person at a time, extending his hand to them and inviting them into his kingdom.

What can we do? Just one thing. Your one thing will look different from my one thing. Maybe it will only ever be one thing, one time or perhaps it will be one thing over and over again. Perhaps one thing will turn into many things, inspiring others by our example. But we have to start somewhere. We have to look at the needs and face the facts. And we have to be willing.

One thing. What will it be? What does God want? And am I willing? That's what I'm asking myself these days.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Strength Will Rise

What I'm listening to - more Chris Tomlin. Sometimes when I read the Bible and come upon a familiar or even a tough verse, I find it helpful to revert the sentence order. It's kind of like hitting refresh on your computer screen or changing up some outfits. A fresh face on an old familiar standby. For example, instead of "For God so loved the world" I try it as "the world was so loved by God." That begs a question: how loved by God? To what extent and in what way?

I think that's kind of what the writer of this song did with Isaiah 40:31. Instead of "they that wait on the Lord will renew their strength" it reads "strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord." Can't you just kind of picture strength rising, bubbling up inside you, as you wait on God? You may only have a hint of confidence at first, but as you continue to wait, strength continues to rise up within you, as a trickle of water turns into a running stream and then into a raging river, a force to be reckoned with.

"Everlasting God"

Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord

Our God, You reign forever
Our hope, our Strong Deliverer
You are the everlasting God
The everlasting God
You do not faint
You won't grow weary

Our God, You reign forever
Our hope, our Strong Deliverer
You are the everlasting God
The everlasting God
You do not faint
You won't grow weary

You're the defender of the weak
You comfort those in need
You lift us up on wings like eagles

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Interlude

Work has been a series of noisy crescendos, one after another. I'm neither a noise girl nor a crescendo girl. No Beethoven's Fifth for me. Just keep the music (and the work) moving along at a steady pace, with appropriate pauses so I can take it all in.

Anyways, a total God-thing happened today. I've taken over one of our most um, trying accounts, a large account in a difficult market with a reputation for demanding purchasing agents (yes, the market, not just this one particular customer). It goes like this: We try. We fail. Customer is not happy. We try to fix the problem. We create new ones. Customer is not happy.

I am new to the account. So is my contact. In spite of one failure after another of late, Mr. Customer has been amazingly gracious. This afternoon I had to give him a bit more bad news.

Me: I hate to tell you this but XXX (bad news). I'm really sorry.
Customer: Oh no! Don't tell me that! I'm going to have to shut myself in my office again with a book!
Me: Oh yeah? What are you reading? (Seizing the opportunity for a diversion from the issue at hand!) I usually read at lunch too.
Customer: Max Lucado's 3:16!
Me: (light bulb goes on!) Ahhh, sounds like we have similar tastes in reading.
Customer: Hmm, must be why we've managed to both be so nice in spite of this terrible situation!

Interlude: A short piece inserted between the parts of a longer composition

This was like an interlude in my day. A different tune. A little calming reminder that God is involved in every bit of our lives. Not standing off to the side, as an dispassionate observer, but intimately involved - right in the middle of it all.

The phone conversation ended and the discordant noise soon resumed. But all afternoon, strains of that interlude lingered, no doubt God's answer to prayers of a friend. A God-thing indeed.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Book Review: Under the Overpass

ATTENTION: We interrupt the normal drivel found on this blog to recommend a great book, Under The Overpass.

"What if I stepped out of my comfortable life with nothing but God and put my faith to the test alongside of those who live with nothing every day?"

With that question on his heart, Mike Yankowski set out with his friend Sam to find the answers. It was a journey that would take him into the heart of six major cities over a five-month period, and one he undertook with nothing more than the clothes on his back, his Bible and journal, a guitar and a sleeping bag. Along the way, they lived alongside the homeless of each city, playing their guitars and panhandling to earn enough money for their next meal as well as bus transportation from city to city. Their eyes were opened to how those who "have" view those who "have not." They learned firsthand what it means to pray "give us this day our daily bread." They experienced both the generosity of some Christ-followers, as well as painful rejection by some churches and those who called themselves Christians.

Without putting his readers on a guilt trip, and free from any hint of self-righteousness, Mike recounts his experience in an engaging yet thought-provoking manner. He willingly acknowledges the part personal choice plays in the lives of those he encounters. He humbly admits that he struggled with the need for discernment on a daily basis: do you give to someone panhandling? And what can you give? After he returns to his former life - that of a well-provided-for college student, he reflects on the dangers of lacking nothing.

In the end, graciously and without preaching or moralizing, Mike simply encourages his readers to open their eyes and hearts to the love of God and how he would have us live it out. "As over-spiritualized as it might sound, I really do think that caring for the needy begins with loving God more completely. It's in knowing and responding to His amazing love for us that we begin to set our priorities straight."

I didn't realize until I was partway through it that it's actually considered teen reading (I order my library books online) - it's that easy of a read. I highly recommend this book, but fair warning: you'll probably be thinking about it for days afterward.

Friday, October 12, 2007

So Much and So Little

So much to blog about; so little time. But here are some ideas swirling around in my brain:

Make & Take - mmm, birthday dinner at mom's this weekend and you won't believe what we're having!
Eat More Chikin - Not just Chick-Fil-A either!
My latest book buys - yum!
The Jesus Creed by Scot McKnight (a review)
Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts (a review)
Church: Competitive or Cooperative?

So there. I've committed to blogging for at least another week or so!


This picture says it all. You may think it nothing more than a cute little dog, guarding his toy. Nope. There's more. See that heater vent behind him? Well, the furnace has yet to kick on but it being a mite chilly here tonight, MacGyver knows . . . believes . . . that he will be warm again. And so in earnest expectation, he huddles in his favorite corner, waiting. And someone has sympathy on him and kicks the furnace on!

And just in case that wasn't enough cuteness for one day, here's the reason I'm always behind on my laundry:

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Soft Edges

My co-worker and I used to enjoy sharing stories about her mom and my grandma. The phrase we agreed as describing these women was "soft edges." Kind of evokes a feeling of a warm fleece blanket you bundle about you on a chilly winter evening, doesn't it? Do you know someone like that?

I know every person is different, based on their personality type and a host of other individualizing factors. Soft edges don't come naturally to me, but I think it's a quality I want to develop in my life. I want to make people feel at home and comfortable, even if it's just for a brief phone conversation with a customer at work. We think a lot about giving, but sometimes it's those intangible things, like our presence, that mean the most to others. And if that presence is welcoming and inviting, all the better.

Anyways, just thought I'd throw those words out there today. Give us all something to think about. Soft edges.

And a here's a good quote I've been using as my sig line in email:

"It's a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand." Madeleine L'Engle


Sunday, October 07, 2007

Word of the Week: Cusp

From the Latin: point. A point that marks the beginning of a change; i.e. on the cusp of a new era.

Cusp. Not part of my everyday vocabulary, which is usually limited to words like carbon, ship date, and, unfortunately, LATE! Oh, and coffee - and lots of that! And on the home front, words like pizza and laundry get more of a work out.

I thought about it all day yesterday as we drove down scenic Route 40 to Deep Creek, Maryland. The purpose of our trip of course, was to enjoy the foliage. I think my husband was a bit disappointed, because the leaves are really just beginning to turn. Actually, it's my favorite time, because you really have to be observant. They're on the cusp, so to speak, of turning into an extravagant display.

It's one of those words I'd never given much thought to until I came across it several times in my reading this past week.
It conveys a feeling of expectation and anticipation, like the tree so ripe with fruit you know the harvest is inevitable. And it kind of sums up a feeling I have lately, an expectation that months, even years, of work and waiting and praying are about to come to fruition.

It's not a place we find ourselves in all the time, on the cusp. Life is a series of peaks and valleys, struggles and victories. And yet I wonder if I shouldn't live with more of this approach to life, an attitude of expectation. Not looking for a new era, but living with an expectation that God is at work, living in anticipation of what he's going to teach me next. I'm reminded of this prayer I posted earlier.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Embraced by God

She sees me and her face lights up and she draws me into a warm, welcoming embrace.

It's late when I get home from work but someone's waiting with a big hug and flowers in the fridge (it's our anniversary tonight).

If you know me, you know I'm not really the huggy type. A hug from me typically means my arm flopped sideways across your shoulders, which may get a little squeeze in the process. Needless to say, not being the huggy type, I probably don't invite a lot of hugs either. But lately, I've been the recipient of a few hugs that, well, keep me coming back for more.

This Saturday we'll take a drive down to Deep Creek, Maryland for the day. We'll take our time on the back roads and enjoy the beautiful display of fall foliage, which I am told is just about peak down there. Be still my heart! This is one of my annual anniversary/birthday requests (since they fall in the same month) and one my sweet hubby delights in faithfully fulfilling!

I've always loved fall but I remember first time the changing leaves made an impression on me. It was the year I student taught. I was working on staff at the college forty hours a week and muddling through student teaching at the same time. I trudged onto the bus early one morning, nearly in tears from exhaustion. On the drive over to the school, I happened to get my nose out of the lesson plans long enough to take in the beautiful northwest Indiana fall foliage. My heart did one of those flip-floppy butterfly dances at the sight of painted display, the warm morning sun brushing on the final touches. I felt God fold me to himself in an embrace that said "I'm here. It's okay." And it was.

To me, an embrace is a fuller embodiment of a hug. It involves much more than an arm around the shoulder. It signifies open arms and complete acceptance. And isn't that what we get from God? Open arms and complete acceptance? We just have to stop long enough to let ourselves revel in his love.

So when's the last time you allowed yourself to feel embraced by God?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Made to Worship

What I'm listening to (even at work, a real treat since we sit so close together and my heater is usually running too loudly to listen to music above the drone of the heater - perhaps the only plus of being temporarily partnerless!)

I really like this line "wrote the story of His love for everyone." The more I see the Bible as "story", the more meaning it has for my life, and the more I see my life as part of his story, the more meaning my life has and the more important "everyone" seems. Does that make sense?

Made To Worship (Chris Tomlin)

Before the day
Before the light
Before the world revolved around the sun
God on high
Stepped down into time
And wrote the story of His love for everyone

He has filled our hearts with wonder
So that we always remember

You and I were made to worship
You and I are called to love
You and I are forgiven and free
When you and I embrace surrender
When you and I choose to believe
Then you and I will see who we were meant to be

All we are
And all we have
Is all a gift from God that we receive
Brought to life
We open up our eyes
To see the majesty and glory of the King

He has filled our hearts with wonder
So that we always remember

Even the rocks cry out
Even the heavens shout
At the sound of His Holy name
So let every voice sing out
Let every knee bow down
He is worthy of all our praise

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Book Review: Soul Feast

Recently someone suggested that the journey of faith is not necessarily a linear one, in which we move from point A to point B. I’m inclined to agree, although I used to view it that way. If I was not farther along today than I was yesterday, then I was backslidden. Now it reminds me more of math class, where every year began with a review of the basics, of which mastery was critical if you were to move on to higher math concepts. God has been providing me with plenty of opportunity for review lately!

In Soul Feast, Marjorie Thompson takes us back to the basics; those spiritual practices which form the foundation of our walk with God. In the prologue, she summarizes her focus: “I remain convinced that the way forward lies in practicing the truths we know, not merely knowing the right theology.”

By way of introduction, Thompson spends an entire chapter on spiritual transformation. In this era where the word “spirituality” means something different to everyone, from New Age seekers to Twelve-Step program participants, what does it mean as followers of Christ to be spiritually transformed? Paul describes this as the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, continually forming us into the image of Christ. Thompson likens the spiritual disciplines as windows which must remain transparent, never obscuring but always enhancing our view of God. The minute they become a means to an end, the disciplines becomes opaque, “reflecting our distorted motives.”

Spirituality then, and spiritual practices in particular, are simply ways to make space for God to work in our lives. Prayer, fasting, scripture reading and hospitality are just a few of the seven disciplines covered in this book. Each idea is presented along with a few questions and opportunities to pause for reflection, along with suggestions for engaging in that practice. The book is aptly titled Soul Feast, for the myriad of ways in which we can enhance our walk with God are indeed much like a smörgåsbord. Impossible to taste everything at once, but over time we can learn to incorporate many of these practices into our lives.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Word of the Week: Breathe

Or perhaps it should be words of the week: "just breathe!" That's what I'm doing tonight, or starting to anyways, after not being able to OPEN my laptop since Tuesday night! Wow, that was a weird feeling of withdrawal. Even though I've begun shutting my laptop down one night a week and leaving it off for about 36 hours, that's a planned thing. Vastly different from staring at a locked-up-tighter-than-a-drum laptop!

All my husband's years of school paid off tonight though; he had it apart and open in about three hours and I'm breathing regularly again.

Seriously though, I am learning the value of stopping to breathe deeply throughout my day. It's sad that we as believers have allowed the very essence of life - breath - imparted to us by God, to become a scary word. We've kind of relinquished it to the rest of the world - the marketplace, exercise gurus and worshippers of every other god but ours.

Think about it. When God breathed the breath of life into his creation, it was intentional. Unlike the shallow breathing that gets us through most of our day, or the gasping for breath we might do because we're out of shape, deep breathing has to be intentional. It comes with a pause of sorts. It settles you down. Helps you focus. I am finding my prayer time much enriched when I take a moment to breathe deeply and clear my head and heart of cluttering thoughts. A deep breath in the middle of a stressful day beats crawling under my desk!

When's the last time you stopped to breathe deeply? Why not try it? Step outside and smell the fragrance of the rain or the falling leaves. Pause to marvel at the innocence of your children. Let a moment etch itself in your memory. Claim it for yourself again, this marvelous gift of God. Just breathe.

P.S. It's All Good

When I was a dorm supervisor at Bible college, I once shared a devotion on Romans 8:28. You're familiar with the verse no doubt, quoted below in the KJV I used at the time:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God,
to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Using the ingredients panel of a cereal box, we agreed that a few ingredients seemed palatable - sugar, raisins, nuts, etc., but that most either taste bad on their own (salt, flour) or have no taste at all (niacin and all the other good-for-you vitamins). And then we discussed how all the ingredients God places in our lives are important and together, he works them for our good. This meant, for us seventeen to twenty-five year olds, even the not so pleasant things like family struggles back home, final exams, broken-down cars and break-ups with boyfriends. Oh and of course, the perpetually empty wallets!

Fast-forward twenty years - wow, has it been that long? I still believe, without shadow of doubt, that God uses everything he brings into our lives. But if I could share again today, I'd add two postscript thoughts.

One, God is at work in my life and yours - this we know. But I think his work is evident in so much more than just negative circumstances. We don't have to wait until we've got our backs up against the wall to be assured of his amazing presence. He is at work in our lives day in and day out, through the people he brings into our lives, the books we read, through his providence, through his Word and his Holy Spirit. He is constantly weaving together strands of mercy, hope and grace. I am confident that God works in every detail in my life for his glory.

For his glory. That's the second thought I'd add. HIS glory. HIS purpose. I'm afraid that for many years, I read that verse this way:

to THEM that love God, to THEM who are the called according to his purpose.

THEM = ME. I loved God. I was the "called." So his work was on MY behalf. So he could bring about his purpose in MY life.

Today, I'd have to change the emphasis, based on a better understanding of the context (here in the more familiar NIV):

And we know that in all things GOD works for the good of those who love HIM, who have been called according to HIS PURPOSE.

Emphasis on God. In fact, much of chapter 8, especially from verse 18 on, speaks of the glory that will be revealed in us, and the whole creation waiting anxiously for redemption. It's not about me. It's his story, not mine. His creation. His plan. His purpose. His glory.

All things. It means so much more to me now and I expect in years to come, this verse will continue to mean more to me.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Fall into Reading 2007

I've been looking forward to this Fall into Reading Challenge for quite sometime. The beginning of the challenge has been just resisting the urge to dive right into all these books before the challenge begins. But it's also been challenging to read more purposefully, as well as holding off buying quite so many books. The other thing I'm doing differently this time is purposely rereading a few books.

Anyways, here's the list for starters. I don't feel obligated to read everything on this list, but what I do read this fall will most likely come from this list. I've decided to keep my most current (3-4) reads on Shelfari, and the complete list here on the blog. In the interest of saving my wrists, I'm not bothering to hyperlink them all, since they're linked to on Shelfari.


  • The Renegade Writer - Formichelli & Burrell
  • The Sound of Paper - Julia Cameron
  • The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield
  • Head Game - Tim Downs
  • Meet the Austins - Madeleine L'Engle (goal of reading the Austin series)
  • The Moon by Night - Madeleine L'Engle
  • A Ring of Endless Light - Madeleine L'Engle
  • Troubling a Star - Madeleine L'Engle
Devotional: Celtic Daily Prayer

  • Listen:Finding God in the Story of Your Life - Keri Wyatt Kent
  • Surrender to Love - David Benner
  • The Jesus Creed - Scot McKnight
  • The Road Less Traveled - M. Scott Peck set aside halfway through, not what I was expecting!
  • The Life of the Beloved - Henri Nouwen
  • Under the Overpass - Mike Yankowski
  • Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture - Michael Frost
  • Abba's Child - Brennan Manning
  • Sacred Rhythms - Ruth Haley Barton

Sunday, September 23, 2007

What's in Your Closet?

The approach of fall always brings the need to clean out my closet. Since I can't fit fall/winter clothes in my closet along with my spring/summer wardrobe, the sweaters and corduroys get packed away under the bed until the cooler months arrive. I don't consider myself a clotheshorse by any means, nevertheless I know I have a lot of things that need to go. That dress in the back of my closet, a gift from some friends years ago (about thirteen to be exact) - will I ever wear that again? Those way-too-big articles and the way-too-small ones too - isn't there someone who could use them now? That wool blazer that I just had to have . . . I haven't worn in about ten years.

I'll stand and deliberate over each item. Should I give it to a friend? Sell on ebay? Or just give to Goodwill. Or should I hang onto it for one more season? No, if I haven't worn it in a year, I most likely will not wear it in the coming year. It must go.

But thinking about cleaning out my closet reminds me of some other business to which I must attend. I feel like I've been on an emotional journey over the past year, as God has taken me into some deep places in my heart and soul. And I realize there are some things that must go. Some attitudes which just don't fit any longer. Some habits and ways of thinking which are proving useless. Some outdated mindsets.

The best part about a clean closet is space. No, I don't mean space in which to fit more things! But space for what I already have to fit well and hang neatly. Things are more likely to be worn when I can see what I have.

And so it is with my heart. Though the process is a admittedly painful at times, I know God is right there with me. As I drag some of these things out of the depths, as I face them with God and he gently suggests I turn them over to him, I am loving the space it affords me to more fully enjoy the good things God has placed in my life.

So . . . what's in your closet?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Word of the Week: Leadership

So this was the word that floated to the top of my consciousness over the last week or two, both spoken and unspoken.

First, these alternate leadership models as described in a recent message: servant leadership - that of an inverted pyramid, where the leadership leads by serving and supporting others. (Sounds like a carpenter-turned-rabbi I read about once). And another interesting idea, that of a sideways pyramid, where the leadership leads by forging ahead into previously unknown territory. Most of my experience with leadership has been the top-down model, where the leadership is somewhat removed from those who follow. I've been blessed to see some servant-leadership models in action of late. Lucky for me, one example has been my boss who just rolled up her sleeves and grabbed some work off my pile today, since we're once again shorthanded in our department.

Another thought: a position does not necessarily indicate leadership. Haven't we all had managers who, in their failure to convey vision and goals, never took us anywhere? Where we never grew as a person while we worked for them, or perhaps we even backpedaled a bit? Sad to say, I think I've been that kind of manager in the past. I had a job to do and those who worked for me were simply a means to get my job done. I can't be too hard on myself though, since I was barely out of college and quite immature myself and every semester I had to train a new crew. I wish I could say it was a learning experience but the gist of what I learned was that I'm really not the management type! That said, not everyone is called to lead others, but are we not all called to serve one another?

Third idea: Leadership is not something to be grasped at. I thought this post entitled "Leading by Stepping Aside" really hit the nail on the head. So many times we as women think we have to do it all. And then we complain when we feel burned out. Go figure! I found this applicable as I will need to hand over some accounts to other customer service reps in the near future. My tendency is to think it's just easier to do it myself but helping someone else step in and get up to speed quickly will benefit us all in the long run.

Lastly, unless you're in their shoes, it's really difficult to understand the positions leaders find themselves in. Plenty of people stop by my cubicle last week to give their opinion on how the open position should be filled. I happen to know (because I happen to be good friends with my boss, from her pre-boss days) there's much more involved than just plugging a person into the empty chair. Anyways, my impression is that those with leadership responsibilities need our prayers, more than we probably realize. I wonder if anyone ever prayed for Jesus as he walked this earth?

So those are my rambling thoughts for the week: serving others and praying for those who serve others in a leadership capacity.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Reading Non-fiction Like a Pro

Many of you are hard at work finalizing your reading list in anticipation of Katrina's Fall Reading Challenge. If you've never done something like this before, I encourage you to give it a try. Although I was skeptical at first, the challenge encouraged me to become more disciplined and intentional in my reading habits. Um - not to mention saving some money by reading what I had on hand!

Perhaps you're scrambling to get the obligatory non-fiction title or two on your list. You know, the one you should read because you're a parent and you just know you need some help! Or the one your relative gave you for Christmas last year. Or the one all your friends at church seem to be reading and talking about! If you find yourself less than enthusiastic about non-fiction, here are a few tips you might find helpful:

  1. Allow the Lord to direct your reading path. In what areas of your life are you struggling? Trust that he can use certain authors to reinforce the principles in his word and bring about his good work in your life.
  2. When choosing books, seek the recommendation of friends and avail yourself of the many reviews posted at sites like and Note authors of magazine articles you enjoy and check out the Internet to see what books they might have written.
  3. Read according to your personality. Are you a how-to person who loves lists and action items? Or are you a more contemplative person who appreciates great literary quotations interspersed in your reading? Can you relate better to books filled with personal stories? As you select books, keep your personality and preferences in mind.
  4. Get in the habit of reading the prologue, dedication and introduction to books. Doing so gives you personal insight into the author's intention for writing that particular book. Getting to know the author a bit always whets my appetite for the rest of the story. In today's Internet world, it's easy to connect to favorite authors online via their personal blogs and websites.
  5. Read slowly and set attainable reading goals. As a college student, I boasted a 2000 wpm reading level in a speed-reading course. That's great when your goal is to complete hundreds of pages of required reading with only three days left before finals. It's not so great when you come to the end of the book and realize you missed most of the author's best ideas. If you're new to non-fiction, perhaps just one chapter a week or just 1-2 books a year would be achievable goals.
  6. Read with a pen and paper at hand. If you own the book, stop and underline parts that speak to you. Fill the margins with notes if you're so inclined. Or jot down important thoughts in a notebook, remembering to note page numbers for future reference.
  7. As the Lord leads, incorporate the thoughts you're reading into your daily quiet time. If the author provides a study guide or questions for reflection, consider taking the time to contemplate at least a few of those questions. Recently I read If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get out of the Boat, by John Ortberg. In Chapter 7, Ortberg points to Psalm 142 as David's great cave-time lament. So for the next few days, I spent time meditating on that Psalm during my quiet time.
  8. Share your reading with others. Perhaps your church would appreciate a short review for the church newsletter. Post a snippet on your blog, along with your insights. Or challenge a friend to read the same book you're reading, and then meet occasionally to share your insights. Something happens when we try to summarize and share what we're learning; it reinforces it in our own minds.
And now, I have a reading list to tend to!