Saturday, April 28, 2007

Wide Open Spaces

When I was a teen, we had an eight-track recording of Christine Wyrtzen, daughter of Jack Wyrtzen of Word of Life fame. My sister and I played that old tape countless times. One of her songs, Back Home, often came to mind years later as I traipsed the inner city streets of Chicago during my college years. I was pleased to find she still sings but couldn't locate this song online. Sing it with me if you remember it:

Back home, where the air is cleaner,
Back home, where the grass is greener,
There's nowhere else on earth
That I'd rather be.

Oh I don't mind the city
A week at a time,
But apartment life for me is simply way out of line.
I feel the open spaces calling out to me,
Back home where I live.

Having grown up in the country on seventeen acres that bordered my gram's nearly ten acres, with not another neighbor's house in sight unless we walked to the top of our field, I have to say I'm a lover of Wide Open Spaces. When my husband and I were looking for a home to buy, all I saw was brick wall after brick wall . . . eight - ten - twenty feet from the next one. The house would be cute until I walked into the bedroom, looked out the window and saw the neighbor's house.

Then we toured an unimposing little two-bedroom ranch around the corner from my inlaws. I only agreed to look as a courtesy. (Come on, how many of you live next to your inlaws!) The kitchen was a shoebox; the diningroom was crowded with her oversized china cabinet. The owner made it a point to note the paneled bedrooms - she was clearly proud of that "real wood paneling." I was not impressed. Then we moved to the backyard and I gulped. For, as long as I looked straight ahead, I could see nothing but yard and trees! Talk about Wide Open Spaces. Suddenly the place didn't look quite so bad. And so the little house with the big backyard became ours.

Fast-forward nine years. We're still here. And I just got done reading Lisa Samson's newest offering, Quaker Summer, which I recently reviewed. And I'm wondering . . . are those Wide Open Spaces really all they're cracked up to be? We just put up a privacy fence on one side. The other is flanked by overgrown forsythia planted many years ago by our other neighbor. We say our front door is always open but we rarely talk to our neighbors. And I'm just wondering . . . do those Wide Open Spaces represent a distance I strive to keep from others who may need me to reach out to them? I can't help but thinking the mass exodus from city to suburbs to country has caused Christians to move away from people who need us most.

I still love that song, "Back Home." And I'm still a lover of my Wide Open Spaces. But I don't want to remain unaware of those who never get to enjoy them. Who wake up in the morning on the street with a hangover, or huddled in a corner, fearing yet another beating. Who have nowhere to escape but drugs or alcohol. Children who have to beg for yet another meal. Elderly people, long forgotten, with no one to listen to their musings. I love the peace and quiet I enjoy in my Wide Open Spaces. But I'm not sure Jesus wants to be confined to them.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Book Review: Quaker Summer

I usually read fiction to escape. But I know when I pick up a Lisa Samson novel, I'm going to run smack dab into myself. Such was the case with Quaker Summer as the main character, Heather Curridge comes face to face with who she is and what really matters in life.

Haunted by memories of cruelty to less fortunate classmates in her Christian school, and left empty by the lifestyle of accumulation she's living, Heather sets out looking for some answers to the questions that linger in all of our hearts. Her quest takes her first to the Hotel, a sort of soup kitchen nestled amidst the drug realm in the worst part of town, and then to the home of two quaint elderly sisters, who teach her not to be afraid to ask the hard questions. Finally she makes the long trip back to her past to set things right, only to find that some things just cannot be made right. She learns, however, that God's grace is always good . . . whether it be forgiveness for past mistakes or guidance for the future.

Lisa Samson is not afraid to tackle the difficult issues in her writing, because she grapples with them in real life, as is evident on her blog. Through colorful yet down-to-earth characters who change and grow as you read, and a stream of consciousness style of writing that echoes many of our own thoughts, she challenges us to question our attachment to material things and our real purpose in life. You'll come away from this book wondering just how Jesus would live and serve if he were among us today.

Follow up Post

Sunday, April 22, 2007

398 and Other Totally Miscellaneous Musings

So for all of you who were concerned about the disconcerting state of my email inbox, you'll be pleased to know by the end of last week, I had whittled it down to less than 400 emails! Read: trashed - bada bing! (No, really I just "filed" them by month). I am trying to keep it to less than 500; I think for me that's an achievable goal.

The other night we had a power outage in our neighborhood. It didn't disrupt much more than the movie I was watching. We stood outside on our front porch and looked around at a very dark and quiet neighborhood, with only a brilliant crescent moon and a few bright stars to cast a bit of light across a pitch black sky. It was almost eery. Having grown up in the country, I've come to miss those nights of absolute peace and quiet. It occurred to me that people used to appreciate night time more than we do now. Thanks to electricity, we can read or work well into, or even through, the night. 'Twas a time when night time and darkness meant stop and rest. Now it's something we must intentionally do. Perhaps an occasional power outage would help us to stop and consider the real source of our strength and power!

I got to do one of my favorite things this weekend: work in our church's bookstore. I just love to be surrounded by good books, and I met several members with the same passion. And yet, other than a gift for someone, I resisted making any purchases. I am determined to get through the books on my Spring Thing reading list. Although I've already finished four of them, am part way through Quaker Summer and almost done with Boundaries In Marriage, so no doubt I will be either adding to or at least revising the list soon.

Speaking of Spring, it seems as if she has finally arrived in western PA (and yes, it deserves to be capitalized for showing up)! So I'm headed outside to do some yard cleanup and enjoy the beautiful weather. You never know how long it's going to last around here!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Making Your Requests Known

This is my dog in his snuggle sack. Go ahead, say it: "Awwww!" Yes, he is every bit as adorable as he looks. But he is helpless when it comes to getting IN the snuggle sack. He will just stand there facing it until I notice and open it wide for him to crawl in. Sometimes I notice his little butt in the mirror reflection while I fix my hair. Sometimes I cross the hall into the bathroom and catch him standing there on the bed, facing the snuggle sack. I wonder how long he would stand there waiting for me! Albeit quietly, he let's me know what he needs.

Lately I've been reading and meditating on Philippians 4:6-7. I especially loved the Message version:

Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

I know that prayer is more than just enumerating a list of requests and expecting God to answer. But sometimes I think we underestimate God and his desire for us to bring our requests, our concerns for others, and our needs to him. Sometimes I find myself talking to others about prayer requests more than I talk to God.

The question is often asked: if God already knows our needs, why pray? I think it's our conversation with God that matters most. You know the overwhelming relief that comes when you talk things out with a friend? Sometimes it helps just to get things off your chest. Other times, the relief comes in knowing you're not alone in your struggles. You may not find an immediate answer, but sometimes just talking helps immensely. I find the same happens when I talk to God.

Are we comfortable bringing our every concern and burden to God, secure in the fact that he already knows our weaknesses and shortcomings? Even a dog makes his needs known. How could we do less with our loving Creator?

Monday, April 16, 2007


Ever since this post by my friend Katrina, she and I have been discussing email count. Inspired by her clean and empty inbox, I managed to whittle down my personal email inbox to just 24 emails. However, I told her that I was sure my work inbox held over 2000 emails. Well, today I actually checked and was astounded to find that my inbox count was 9,063! (That's total, not just new or unread and I was happy to find I only accumulated 284 new ones during the week I was off.)

The really pathetic thing - that's just since September 2006! WHAT IS WRONG HERE PEOPLE?

I will tell you. It's easier to shoot off an email than to PICK UP THE PHONE!!! (and yes, that sentence warrants 3 exclamation points!)

I am ashamed that my inbox is overflowing. But you know what? I don't send a lot of emails! I'm a phone girl myself. I get copied on a gazillion emails. I get bombarded with way too much information and entirely too many silly questions, and this does not include the mindless jokes or spam.

How do I live like this, you say? Well, I've been pondering that very question tonight and I have come to the conclusion that I am in purely reactive mode when it comes to work. I think my thought process must be something like this:


Better yet, stop by my desk and just talk to me! Voila - 5 minutes and your needs are met, with no electronic traces left to haunt us! Perhaps you could pick me up a decaf tall skim latte while you're out for your two hour lunch!

In the meantime, I'm too busy working to read your stupid emails. Especially the ones where you just copy me because you want the whole world to know you're working today! Oh, and the ones where you just reply with totally unnecessary one word answers. Or the ones (my favorites) where you neglect to include a relevant subject line or any subject line at all!

Does anyone know if there's such a thing as Clean Sweep for the office professional? If so, please consider submitting my name - I will happily allow them to overhaul my inbox! (Believe it or not, my house does NOT have this problem!)

Thank you, fellow bloggers, for letting me vent! Your posts always have titles and more than one word and are full of purpose - such a comfort to know sane people do exist! I feel much better now that I've gotten that off my chest and now I'm off to take a nice relaxing bath and get ready to tackle . . .

anything but the inbox!!! (Not tomorrow anyways!)

(This post dedicated to my friend Katrina, who inspires me in more ways than one!)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

One Last Hurrah and then some!

This is one of those random hodgepodge posts; I hope no one minds. Actually I'm enjoying several last hurrahs today:

  • Since the east coast has been blasted by some wintery weather today, my hubby was kind enough to drag in some wood and I'm enjoying a blazing fire in the gameroom while the Soundscapes music channel plays in the background. This may be the last burn session until fall so I'm camping out here for the rest of the day.
  • I baked a batch of oatmeal cookies today. Once it starts to get warmer, I don't bake nearly as much. Which may be a good thing. I've been on vacation all week, and unless you count painting, I haven't gotten any real exercise in quite a while.
  • Sniff. Did you get the last paragraph - my vacation ends today! So this is the last hurrah for blogging and reading with abandon! Sigh. Pray my re-entry goes easy on me tomorrow. Anyone want to guess how many new unread emails I'll have in my inbox when I get back tomorrow? Let's just say I hope I've gotten through the bulk of them by noon!
So there you have it - my afternoon in a nutshell. Coming soon: I plan to review Prayer - Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey. Stay tuned!!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Sabotaged, Sidetracked or Blessed?

So just after the start of a particular Spring Reading Thing, someone loans me a bag of books, none of which happen to be on my reading list! Sabotaged?

Then, halfway through what for me is a monumental painting project, while my personal books are packed away (oh the pain!), I succumb to the bag of books calling my name. Sidetracked?

Sabotaged? Sidetracked? Neither! Just blessed. The two books I grabbed were great reads. I haven't read any fiction in over a month (hard to believe, huh!). And I haven't read much Christian fiction in the past several months. These books were a blessing in that, without being preachy, both were full of purpose and depth of character.

Watching the Tree Limbs
is the first book I've read by Mary DeMuth but I've long enjoyed her blog, her Christlike spirit and her commitment to excellence in Christian writing. This book deals with a difficult subject in a tender manner, with endearing characters and a strong message of faith.

Being in the midst of some home improvement projects myself, I could especially appreciate the dilemna in which the title character finds herself in Renovating Becky Miller. When a fixer-upper house in the country turns into a money pit, and even her church seems to have dibs on her time, Becky is forced to take a long hard look at what really matters in her life. Sharon Hinck has created a down-to-earth and likeable character and I'll be sure to look for more Becky Miller titles in the future.

Hey, the painting's about done AND I relaxed and got some good reads under my belt! I am blessed indeed!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Book Review: Surrender to Love

Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality is the third book by David Benner I've enjoyed in the past few months. It is actually the first book in a trilogy which includes The Gift of Being Yourself: the Sacred Call to Self-Discovery, which I reviewed previously and Desiring God's Will: Aligning Our Hearts with the Heart of God, next on my list.

Benner is a gifted psychologist who has written extensively on Christian counseling and the care of souls, but his writings concerning spiritual growth are definitely intended to be enjoyed by the layperson. I read Surrender to Love in less than two days while on my recent retreat and found myself surprised several times as I read.

What surprised me first was his suggestion that the parable of the Prodigal Son be renamed as the story of the Prodigal Father. Not having a dictionary handy, I couldn't immediately verify a less popular definition of the word prodigal: lavishly abundant; profuse. Indeed, isn't that a perfect description of the father in this story? And an even more beautiful picture of God? A loving Father who, in spite of knowing what's best for us, allows us the freedom to exercise our free will? And yet, after we turn our backs on him, he lovingly runs to us with arms wide open, welcoming us back. We always talk about the prodigal son returning home, but the beauty of the story is when the father breaks into a run to greet his wayward son.

The other surprise in this book came in Chapter 2, entitled Love and Fear. I just wasn't expecting to read about fear in a book on love. But as the author says, "Love and fear stand in complex relationship to each other." Benner suggests that much of our Christianity is still in bondage to fear, and yet most of us will deny that we are afraid, unless our fears are focused on something tangible (such as heights or water). But the fears we fail to identify or manage to hide – fear of losing control, of intimacy, rejection, or failure or a host of other fears – can keep us from experiencing the transformational growth we so deeply desire. The antidote for these fears is to submit them to the love of God as stated in I John 4:18: In love, there can be no fear, but fear is driven out by perfect love.

One thing I appreciate about all of Benner’s books is their practical aspect. Even though they are introspective in nature, dealing with our inner being, each one ends with an outward-looking challenge. If we surrender to God’s love, what will that look like in our day-to-day interactions with others?

Overall, I found this to be a very beneficial read. I think the love of God has been a hard concept for me. It’s something I took very lightly and never stopped to comprehend the personal aspect of it. The fact that God loves me was just that; an intellectual fact. This book helped me understand the transforming power of that love, and the need to surrender to that power.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Vacation Week

Some people think I'm crazy but I like to take a week around Easter just to get some things done around the house. I know - the weather is not really vacation weather but that is part of the reason I enjoy taking a week in early spring. I am less tempted to play outside all week!

I probably have too ambitious of a project list this week but we'll see. Today my dad came over and helped paint my livingroom. Yippee! Gone is the boring beige. It's now sporting a shade of designer tan. Tomorrow I hope to tackle the hallway walls as well as the doors and trim there. For some reason, the previous owners covered the beautiful birch doors and trim with a hideous brown stain - or paint - I haven't quite figured that one out yet. Yuck is all I can say. I've wiped them down with TSP and they're getting a makeover tomorrow.

Speaking of covering things over, said former owners also decided to cover up the beautiful hardwood floors with carpeting. Twenty some years ago, I guess that was the thing to do. Well guess what? The carpet's going bye-bye! In the back of my mind, I'm really hoping I can tear this carpet up myself this week. (Shh, don't tell my husband what I'm thinking!) I peeked at a few corners and the hardwood's in nice condition. We'll probably get a large area rug anyways but this carpet has just. got. to. go! It's embarassing when the carpet guys come to clean it and they want to review the results with me: "Ma'am, we did our best but we were unable to remove . . . " Please guys, here's your money - you did your best, just go!

One more thing to share, speaking of overly ambitious project lists. I'm reading a great book right now called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. In a section about learning to accept our limits, author Peter Scazzero says part of our problem is our over-inflated egos which convince us that we can do everything and anything. This either leaves us burned out from attempting to do way more "than our real lives can support" or depressed due to such high and unachievable desires that we don't attempt anything at all.* (I fall into that second category). I am a chapter away from finishing this excellent book and plan to review it on my blog in the near future.

Anyways, I have scaled my TBD list for this week way back, in hopes of having something to show for this week at the end of it!

*Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (Integrity Publishers, 2006), 148-149.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Curtain

The curtain. Ornate and adorned with tassels, it was a reminder of the curtain that separated the the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. It hung in a dark room, illuminated only by a few low spotlights, as one of the seven rooms our church set up as reminders of the Journey to the Cross.

It was beautiful. But it was torn - shredded - from top to bottom. Not the neat kind of tear we make when ripping a sheet of paper in half, but an almost angry tear, as though the one who did it put every ounce of energy into the tearing.

As I stood there gazing at the curtain, it occurred to me what great lengths God went to in order to restore mankind to a relationship with him. It’s as though the very minute Jesus breathed his last breath on the cross, God anxiously tore through the curtain and said, “At last! Nothing stands between a relationship between you and me!

I know that Easter is about so much more than the death of Christ. But thank God, he was willing to die in the first place. Thank God that from the foundation of the world, the plan was in place to restore us to himself.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way
opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body.
Hebrews 10:19-20

Friday, April 06, 2007

A Painful Parting

I apologize if you came here expecting to read bad news. It's not, really. I'm not moving. None of my dear friends are moving (at least they better not be). I haven't lost anything of great value.

It's just that I have this crazy idea in my head to paint my livingroom while I'm off this week. And so I started the tedious prep work of packing stuff away. This morning I tackled the bookcase in my livingroom. I swear I was short of breath and not just from carrying handfuls of books downstairs. It's just that the thought of being separated from my books for even a week pains me!

Even as I was packing them in boxes, I grabbed a few and brought them back upstairs. Like I'm going to try a new bread recipe this week? Right. Well, I might actually write that book review that's been on my mind. And I just might want to review my journal from last year. And I shouldn't pack away the books my friend just loaned me or the borrowed library book.

Does anyone else experience heart palpitations over your books? Possibly part of it was just resisting the urge to halt all redecorating plans and just spend my vacation week camped out on the La-Z-Boy recliner in the gameroom instead! Part of it was realizing how many more books I have than I have time to read.

Sigh. I'll miss my dear friends this week. And knowing how my projects often go, it may be a few weeks or even a month before they're back in their rightful place on my shelf. I'm sure if they could speak, they'd confess anxiety over fears that I might get a pitching spell and get rid of some of them. Nah. Not now. I'll let them hang out in their boxes together for comfort, and when my poor little arms can't lift the paint roller again to save my life, I'll sneak downstairs and rummage through the boxes and welcome the sight of old friends.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Good Dogs; Good Kids

I have a little 7 year old Boston Terrier named MacGyver. I admit to a swelling of pride when others tell me what a good dog he is. He really is. He is great with kids. He comes when called. He doesn't jump on or bark at guests. I don't think he knows how to bite! And for the most part, he is no trouble at all.

I can't really expect much more from a dog, can I? But if I were a parent, would I be happy with "good kids"? Would I be satisfied with kids that just didn't embarrass me? Relieved to hear when I pick them up at preschool that they didn't bite anyone that day? Satisfied if they never succumbed to alcohol, drugs or sexual temptations? Content with mere obedience? Would my goal just be kids that don't give me any trouble?

Now I'm not a parent, but I have many friends and a sister who are doing an awesome job raising their kids. Naturally, they want their kids to be "good." But I see in them a desire for something more than kids that merely just behave. They're endeavoring to build character into their kids. They're willing to work through the difficult times with their kids, knowing what really matters in the long run is the heart.

Likewise, God want more from me than to just be a "good kid." In Romans 12:1, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to not be conformed to this world. But sometimes it seems like we pull away from the world, only to wrap ourselves firmly around some other man-made expectations. Paul goes on to say that, rather than be conformed to this world, we need to be transformed, and our minds renewed. Not outwardly impressing others or doing things that meet with the Christian status quo. Not seeking the approval of others or endeavoring at all costs to avoid conflict, in the name of peace. But changed from the inside out; a work that can only be brought about by the power of Christ.

"Good" is easy. It's achievable and measurable. Transformed - well, that's a lifelong process. And the process may not always feel so good or look so pretty. But if we submit to God's transforming process in our lives, in the end, we will hear that approval we so deeply long for: "Well done, good and faithful servant." If transformation is our desire, "good" will be a natural outcome.