Thursday, March 29, 2007

Lessons from the Gym

A friend recently introduced me to her local recreation center, so the other morning I headed there for a walk. The walking track is an elevated balcony overlooking a huge basketball court. This morning there were two boys' games going on as I walked.

Even though I prefer to think and meditate when I walk, I couldn't help but observe the scene below me. The boys were all about 11-14 years of age, and while they've mastered the fundamentals of ball handling and shooting, it was obvious they have a long way to go before they're ready for the big league. Their biggest problem? Every time one of them got the ball, they went for the basket. They haven't yet learned the meaning of teamwork. Their passing game was shabby at best; the few times they did pass, it was more of a desperate attempt to get rid of the ball than part of a plan to score.

While we can overlook the immaturity of young sportsmen, I marveled at the parallel to the Christian life. It's so easy to focus on "the hoop" and neglect the team aspect. It's so easy to get wrapped up in our own doings that we forget, this Christian life is a community thing. You can't do it alone. We need each other, with all our accompanying strengths and weaknesses, to help us on the journey. So why do we try, again and again, to do it alone?

I was reminded, as I watched those young boys, that just as a skilled passing game comes with practice and maturity, so it is with Christian community. It's something we have to learn, and that we only get good at with much time and effort. But when we do, everyone wins.

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. Ephesians 4:15-16

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Slow Cooker Ham & Bean Soup

I got a hankering for this the other day to go with some homemade bread (yes, the bread machine is back in business)! I tossed the ingredients together in about 5 minutes.

3-4 carrots, peeled and diced
4 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic
2-3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 can low sodium chicken broth
1 can water
1 can great Northern beans, undrained
1/2 tsp white pepper (black will work)
1 lg. bay leaf
2 cups diced ham

Put ingredients in slow cooker on High for 3-4 hours or low for 6-7 hours. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Kid and a Kite

Even though fall is my favorite season, of late I've come to realize how much I always enjoyed spring. I think that's because of my dad's enthusiasm for the season. He's the one who made a big deal out of Groundhog Day, and he's also the one who taught me to fly a kite.

When I was in second grade, I entered a kite contest sponsored by the local Lion's Club. I remember entering at school, then going home and telling my dad we needed to make a kite. All the kids were talking about their elaborate designs but my dad and I decided to stick with your basic diamond-shaped kite. In 1972, I was really into black and yellow and the whole Smiley face idea, so we spray-painted the thing black and then spray-painted a big yellow Smiley face in the middle.

Come contest day, I quickly realized my kite was not a thing of beauty, compared to the Chinese dragon kites and box kites the other kids had constructed. My hopes of winning anything were soon dampened, both by the site of all the other kites, and also by the damp chilly weather, a typical Pittsburgh spring day.

Kid after kid attempted to get their clunky masterpieces off the ground without success. At last my turn came. I knew how to fly a kite. I took off running, holding the spool in one hand, and the kite in the other, willing it to catch a breeze . . . and it did. Higher and higher it went, the lone kite in the sky that day. The smiley face had become a smug grin, matching the grin on my dad's face and mine. Our little ole' plain paper kite had won the big one!

Tonight Mike and I took his nephew on his first kite flying adventure. I, the master kite-flyer, took great pride in patiently instructing the youngster in the art of kite-flying. We gave it our best effort but the wind just wouldn't cooperate and we couldn't get it more than 50' high. Nevertheless, it brought back great memories of one of the biggest days in my life as a kid. The day my dad and I won the kite-flying contest!

I still look forward to flying a kite every spring. What about you? Did you fly kites as a kid? Do you ever do it now, as an adult? If you have kids, why not give it a try now that spring is finally here?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Because I Can (Part 2)

(Continued from previous post)

Noon on St. Patrick's Day found me cruising along east of Pittsburgh and before I knew it, I was at my destination, had greeted my uncle and was safely deposited in the guest room that would be mine for the next 48 hours.

Forty-eight hours. What was I thinking? What would I do alone for that long? No laptop, no fiction, no music, no TV. What WAS I thinking? (Actually, to be without TV doesn't bother me in the least, but I was beginning to think I might miss the other things.)

Left to my own devices, I probably would have skipped meals altogether or just snacked or scrounged for junk food. Fortunately, my uncle had other plans, which proved to be a blessing. Not only did we enjoy some great fellowship, I was left with between 3-4 hours between each meal for my quiet times, which proved to be just enough.

Almost immediately, I realized what I suspected about myself to be true: I'm a pretty fidgety, unfocused person! Honestly, even in a room by myself, with no other books, no music, crosstitch work or writing stuff, I still found myself being pulled by a million nonsense things, like clipping my nails and sorting through my bookbag! I would say it took me an hour or so to settle down and just be quiet, from the inside out.

I started off by journaling a bit, and then spent some time reading and meditating on one of my favorite passages, Psalm 139. Most of the time I spent reflecting on various passages in the Gospels, reading one particular book, and reading the scripture passages associated with each chapter. I did quite a bit of journaling, just trying to record what I felt God was teaching me.

Without dragging you through my entire 48 hours, I will summarize the good, the bad and the ugly of this experience:

  1. The good - it was a great experience to just be completely quiet for once. To just sit and allow God to speak to me, and hopefully offer him the courtesy of just listening to him, was freeing.
  2. The bad - the bells. The guest hall was located next to the chapel, and every 15 minutes beginning at 6:00 am until 9:00 pm, the bells sounded, with a few extra times thrown in for good measure (I think to announce chapel, etc.). I like to be oblivious to time and that was somewhat impossible when bells kept ringing, ringing, ringing!
  3. The ugly - you can't live like this! Although it was a wonderful experience and one I will definitely repeat in the future, even Jesus only went apart for a little while at a time. His times of solitude served only to strengthen and restore him for the purpose of carrying out his calling.
If you're considering doing something like this, I'd recommend checking out either of the books mentioned in my previous post (Resting Place or Wilderness Time) first. Whether you can do this for an afternoon or an entire weekend, I encourage you to give it a try!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Spring Reading Challenge

It's that time again - time to welcome Spring and time to get with the program (i.e. Katrina's Spring Thing Reading Challenge) and figure out just what I want to read over the next few months. This year I started keeping a list of what I've read as well as what I hope to read, so this isn't all that hard. I know this is an ambitious list but I since I reserve the right to switch gears at any time, I'm free to dream all I want!

First order of business: I need to finish some books I've started recently:
Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? (Philip Yancey) (blurb) non-fiction, Christian life
The Garden of the Soul:Cultivating Your Spiritual Life (Keri Wyatt Kent) non-fiction, spiritual growth
Miss Julia Takes Over (Ann B. Ross) fiction
Nurturing Silence in a Noisy Heart (Wayne Oates) non-fiction, Christian life
Boundaries in Marriage (Cloud & Townsend) non-fiction, relationships

Then onto some new ones:
The Ragamuffin Gospel (Brennan Manning) non-fiction, Christian life
Surprised by Joy (C.S. Lewis) non-fiction, Christian life
Resting Place (Jane Rubietta) non-fiction, Christian life
Desiring God's Will: Aligning Our Hearts With The Heart Of God (David G. Benner) non-fiction, Christian life
The Life You Always Wanted (John Ortberg) non-fiction, Christian life (recommended by a pastor at church)
Pride & Prejudice (Jane Austen) fiction
Bridge to Terabithia (Katherine Patterson) fiction
Gardenias for Breakfast (Robin Jones Gunn) fiction
Quaker Summer (Lisa Samson) fiction

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Because I Can

This past weekend I did something I realize most bloggers only dream about doing - I went on a personal retreat. All by myself. From Saturday afternoon until Monday about the same time, I holed up in a monastery room with only my Bible, a journal and a handful of books, where the only interruption was the punctual chiming of the bells to remind me that time still existed.

I suppose the idea came to me from reading Bev's post about this book several months ago. An afternoon away didn't really appeal to me, not right now. I wanted a chunk of time all to myself. So I began scrounging around the Internet for such a place when it occurred to me that my uncle lives at a local monastery which opens its arms to guests seeking retreat.

So now I had the idea and the place but no plan. So what do we do when we have no plan? Can you think of a better excuse to check out some books on the topic? I purchased two books that were helpful, Resting Place (mentioned above) and Wilderness Time, by Emilie Griffin. I kind of knew that Resting Place was more geared to shorter times of retreat, but found Wilderness Time to be a very helpful guide in my planning.

I read Wilderness Time in one very short evening. While I didn't follow any of Ms. Griffin's plans for retreat, her book gave me a lot of food for thought that guided my planning. Her ideas on fasting and simplicity resonated with me. Typically when I think of getting away for some R&R, I spend a lot of time ensuring that I'll have all the comforts of home, so much so that between the packing and deciding what to do next, time away isn't at all restful. She suggests that fasting from things we normally enjoy such as the news, reading and even excessive talk, can enhance a time of retreat. Likewise, she suggests that simplicity - setting aside our needs for comfort - can help minimize distractions. She specifically mentioned a "particular brand of coffee" - yikes, does this woman know me? Well, I kind of failed on the coffee part, but her suggestions did help me decide not to bring any music or my laptop and to even limit the books I planned to bring.

I didn't want to overplan and not leave room for God to work, but at the same time, I felt like I needed to have some goal in mind. Recently I read a great article in Discipleship Journal magazine on loving God, and that brought to mind a book I've been wanting to get into: Surrender to Love, by David Benner. So I decided that would be the focus of this weekend.

So a plan, a place and before I knew it, the weekend was here. Later this week, I'll post a little bit about how the weekend went and a short review of the book(s) I read.