Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Review (or two or three)

I read a lot of non-fiction, and yet I admit I struggle with not always finishing every book I start. And I'm equally as guilty of starting way too many books at the same time. But thanks to Katrina's Spring Thing Reading Challenge (do you really need the link, people?), I've finished more books than ever. Since they are non-fiction, which is not everyone's bag, I decided to lump a few short reviews together in one post.

Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference by Philip Yancey - This is the first Yancey title I've read, and I was impressed. Far from being light and fluffy, Yancey tackles this sometimes confusing aspect of our walk with God with grace and humility. He intersperses each chapter with real life perspective on prayer by people from all walks of life. My takeaway from this book: learning to consider the prayer life of Jesus. If Jesus, the very God in flesh, was so dependent on the avenue of prayer to connect with his Heavenly Father, how can I possibly attempt to live a prayerless life? More than an art or discipline to be mastered, I've come to view prayer as the very breath of our life in Christ.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero - Imagine your spouse announcing one day, "I quit your church." That's the real life illustration Peter Scazzero uses to introduce his story. He was on an out-of-control treadmill, pastoring a large church and keeping up with the demands of church and family when his wife finally brought things to a painful halt with her bold announcement. God ultimately used that incident to reveal a life-changing truth to Scazzero: it's possible for one to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature. Scazzero uses his own life experiences to elaborate on the factors that often prevent us from growing up emotionally, and he offers many helpful suggestions to help us bring our emotions into the presences of God and allow them to be transformed by his redeeming power.

The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning - My sweet blogging friend Bev gave this book to me last fall, and it came highly recommended by her daughter Sarah. For some reason I opted to wait until the Spring Reading Challenge to dive in, and I did so without my usual 3-4 other titles in progress. From the very first chapter, Manning drew me in with his depiction of Christ's choosing to dine with outcasts and sinners. Little truisms like this dotted the pages of his humble appreciation for God's grace: "We fluctuate between castigating ourselves and congratulating ourselves because we are deluded into thinking we can save ourselves." Wow, if that didn't hit home with me. I came away from this wonderful book feeling like I'd just heard the gospel of grace for the first time.

Disclaimer: I've not always been a big non-fiction reader, and in the past considered myself rather shallow in that respect. One thing has helped immensely and that is learning to read slowly (I'm a very fast reader and always looking to stay one step ahead of the plot) and with a pencil in hand. Stopping to underline things and make notes has helped me develop a better appreciation for non-fiction. I try to read no more than two non-fiction titles at the same time, and lately have found myself going back to reread chapters or even entire books. I'm sure it's just a phase but I have enjoyed the books I've been reading.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Intentional Living

Got up at 7am and hit the front flower bed with a vengenance. Over the years, gardening has been a constant source of reflection on my spiritual growth. There's something about a quiet morning, before the sun warms the day, that just calms my soul . . . when I allow it. I'm sad to say, at times, I've allowed my perfectionist tendencies to rob me of the joy that comes with gardening. I've viewed it as a chore, rather than a life-giving perogative. I'm trying to return to gardening as a pleasure.

Isn't it amazing that weeds need no encouragement whatsoever to grow? I mean, one day you think you have things under control . . . newly planted bed rests peacefully under a rich layer of mulch. Within a day or two, the weeds are back, rearing their ugly heads. Hey, who invited you?

But the beautiful things . . . they must be worked intentionally. You have to pick out your plants at a greenhouse, or plant the seeds yourself. You pick the perfect spot and plant them carefully. Water them. Deadhead. Prune.

That's why, when it comes to flowers, I'm a big fan of perennials. I want the stuff that lasts from year to year. Annuals are fun. They provide those quick bursts of color and they certainly have their place in my garden. But my preference, my first love, is my perennials. They don't last forever . . . some only 2-3 years. But once they're established, I'm free to tend to the annuals . . . and fight the weeds that force their way in.

In my life, I want to be living intentionally. The negative stuff, the sin, will grow on it's own, without any help from me! I want to be planting good things in my life, on purpose. And I want my growth to be perennial - not just bursts of emotional bloom, but the kind of growth that lasts from year to year.

NOTE: Not to be deceptive or anything - the above picture is from a few years ago. About all I got done yesterday was remove self-propagating weeds!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Off the Beaten Path

I have a four-day weekend and, at the advice of a friend, am working on filling myself with good things. I tend to make days off all about getting stuff done, and sometimes days off just end up being as stressful as regular work days.

This morning I awoke determined to do something different. I went to the local park but instead of sticking to the paved trail, I got off the beaten path. Oh my - what a beautiful morning. Not a car in sight and no rush of tires speeding across the pavement.

Traipsed along a leaf covered path and was pleasantly surprised to practically cross paths with a young fox - the first I've ever seen. Climbed a hill to a small clearing and just sat on an old dilapidated picnic table for a long while, listening to the sounds of nature. Trying to just be still and listen to God's voice. A red-headed woodpecker flew by and lighted on a nearby tree. Rather than hammer away as woodpeckers usually do, he flitted around, probably in search of bugs just waiting to be eaten. I thought, he's taking advantage of goodness readily available to him.

Came back home and camped out on the back porch with my Bible for a bit. Lately I've been reading I John, and am enjoying reading the same few verses for several days in a row. I John 3: 18-24 have really spoken to me this week. I really like how the Message puts it:

My dear children, let's not just talk about love; let's practice real love. This is the only way we'll know we're living truly, living in God's reality.

It's also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.

And friends, once that's taken care of and we're no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we're bold and free before God! We're able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we're doing what he said, doing what pleases him.

Again, this is God's command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other, in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us.

I hope you find some time to get off the beaten path this weekend and experience some of the wonders God has in store for you!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What I Don't Know

Having been to college, and that being a Bible college, what I know has been an imortant part of my life. Not just the body of knowledge but the veracity of it, and more importantly, the assurance of it. I've been part of many discussions centered around what is known; whether that knowledge be learned, exerienced, understood or referenced in an encyclopedia somewhere. The more you knew, well, the better prepared you were to serve God and impart that knowledge to others. Knowing was everything.

Twenty some years later (yes, it's been that long!) I have gained some respect for the opposite end of the spectrum. What I don't know doesn't intimidate me so much anymore. In fact, I am slowing coming to the humbling conclusion that what I don't know is a big part of my growing relationship with God. What I don't know keeps me in awe of him. The beliefs we argued about in college, the things that were beat into our heads to the tune of pounding on the pulpit during chapel, the things I rattled off with such certainty to unbelievers now seem so arrogant and assuming to me.

Lest you think I'm saying "I don't know nothing" let me quickly clarify. I do know a few things. I know without a shadow of a doubt that there is a God. I know he is a sovereign, omnipotent God that spoke the world into existence. I know I'm created in his image. I know that eternal life is mine, only because his precious Son gave his life for me.

But there's plenty I don't know. I don't know how or when he's coming back. I don't know how it is that he could love me, or how he knows my name, out of the billions of people on this earth. I'm not always certain whether certain things are right or wrong, and I certainly have many unanswered "whys." Nevertheless, it's these things I don't know that shrink me down in my own estimation and magnify this God of mine.

I'm glad for what I don't know. It's the mystery that constantly draws me closer to the heart of God.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Our Deepest Fear

In the movie Akeelah and the Bee, which I recently reviewed, Akeelah's spelling coach, Dr. Larabee, has her read this poem which he has hanging on his wall. After the movie, I had to go look it up for myself. I've often heard the first two lines quoted but that was all. I found that it is most often credited to Nelson Mandela, who was actually quoting the author in his inaugural speech.

Our Deepest Fear

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear
is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness,
that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?
Actually who are we not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people
won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine as children do.
We were born to make manifest
the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And when we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

- Marianne Williamson

When I first read it, my immediate reaction was "Well, this doesn't apply to me - I certainly don't fear being powerful beyond measure'!" But this line: "We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?" grabbed my attention and the answer: "who are we not to be?" keeps drumming through my mind. It sounds a bit arrogant and presumptuous, unless we believe that our value, our sense of worth and who we are, is endowed upon us by the awesome Creator of the universe.

I think about the things I fear (intimacy, rejection, failure) and I think Satan is quite content when he succeeds in keeping me preoccupied with those things. What if I really feared God as I should? Do I fear being powerful beyond measure . . . acknowledging that in and of myself I am nothing, but empowered by God, the possibilities are limitless? Do I fear emptying myself of myself and being filled with his spirit? What if he was truly in control of every area of my life?

I believe in weighing each and every thing I read (or watch) on it's own merits. Additionally I try to read critically, and allow myself to disagree with parts of a book or article without throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water. This has allowed me to appreciate value in much that years ago I would have discounted in its entirety. This poem is one of those things. I probably won't be rushing out to buy anything by this author; nevertheless, this poem made me stop and think . . . and I'm still thinking about it.

And now you know . . . I think way - too - much! Hey, it's free!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Pondering Pens, Pencils and Paper

Just curious - are you particular about your writing instruments and choice of paper? Of late, I've realized I have some weird particulars about these things. For instance, the only pencil I like to use is a Bic disposable. I buy them a dozen at a time at Staples and hate the thought of being without one. I'm careful to keep them retracted when not in use, so as to not waste any lead or accidentally write on the inside of my purse or bookbag.

Pens - they have to be roller ball. At work, I really like the retractable ones in a multitude of colors. Green for when I'm feeling mean, blue on a blah day and purple for those rare easy days! I like to write in different colors on the orders so it shows up well, although there's this unwritten rule that we write the Order Number in Red with a Sharpie. Go figure. Don't they know how dangerous it can be to write with a pen that doesn't retract? Can you tell I've got a thing for retractable stuff? I've ruined one too many outfits by dropping uncapped pens on them. I know - retractables have their downside too but at work, I need 'em! I have one pen in my purse and one in my planner but rarely use them. I use

And as far as paper goes, I have no use for anything but college ruled composition books, although I've just discovered Moleskine journals and they're quickly becoming my favorite thing. I hate looseleaf paper, spiral bound notebooks and especially wide-ruled paper of any sort! And those cloth-covered hardbound journals - nah. Just not me. And at any given time, I have at least four notebooks in use. One or two in my bookbag - one for quotes and thoughts from whatever I'm reading and the other for miscellaneous projects. One with my Bible. Teeny one in my purse. One in my nightstand. And of course one at work.

So what about your writing instruments? 'Fess up - I'd love to hear!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Me and 39,999 Others

So Sunday was a first for me - my first 5K walk. I joined a friend in the Race for the Cure and we walked approximately 3 miles through some of the nicest parts of my city. I'll confess. Other than one friend at work, my life has been relatively untouched by this disease. I did not raise one single penny for the cause; they'll have to be happy with my registration fee this year. My motives were entirely selfish; things didn't work out to get together with my mom and siser on Sunday, my husband was out of town and as a "non-mom" I was hoping to avoid the sometimes depressing thoughts that can be overwhelming on a day set aside to honor moms. I wasn't prepared for the blessings that would be mine.

First of all, it was so sweet to see all the survivors sporting their pink ball caps and t-shirts, and walking hand-in-hand with grateful husbands and daughters. It was equally moving to see husbands, sisters and daughters walking in memory of loved ones who lost their fight.

But more than that, it was amazing to watch forty thousand people moving as one through the city. Once I managed to quell my fear of becoming lost in that massive throng, it hit me - these people are walking for a cure that is at best temporary. I couldn't help thinking how much more I have in Christ and am I willing to share that? It would be thrilling to see forty thousand Christians mobilized in the streets of Pittsburgh - yes, but then I am reminded that the "Walk/Race" is really just the celebration. The victories, the healings, the bearing through months of illness - those happened just one person at a time. And so it is with Christ - it is he who changes lives, one life at a time. But am I celebrating that in a way that others will want to join me on the walk?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

She's A Grand One!

When I was a kid, we were fortunate - oh so fortunate - to live next door to my Gram. She lived across the field from us. My sis and I were always over there. It was not unlike us to run across the field several times a day to borrow a tomato or egg, check out what she was having for dinner or just read the paper, shoot the breeze and visit. (Whatever Gram was having for dinner always seemed better than what we were having!) Over the years she gave us art lessons, serenaded us with her attempts at playing the piano and organ (!) and kept us laughing with her crazy schemes. Chores were a hassle at home but cleaning Gram's house was our pleasure (go figure!)

For these and other reasons, we used to tell our mom she was our "mother" but Gram was our "grand" mother. Of course, most kids everywhere do the same. Grandmas tell you stories while moms tell you to clean your room. Grandmas give you homemade bread with butter and jelly, or fudgsicles before you've had your dinner. Moms give you dinner and make you eat it all, whether you like it or not. Grandmas delight in everything you do; moms - well, they're the mom. They discipline you. Make sure you get to bed on time. Make sure your clothes match. Ensure you get your homework done.

Grandmas are quite grand and ours was a treasure. But after all these years, I've come to realize my mom was quite grand herself. I'm sure I didn't appreciate it then, because she was just doing her job most of the time. But while she was making sure our clothes matched, our manners appropriate and our homework complete, she also made sure we made plenty of memories along the way. The summer before my sophomore year, she had something special planned almost every week, and at the end of that summer, she presented us with a photo album so we'd be able to remember all the fun things we did. She worked for many years at a Christian school so my sister and I could attend there. When I was in college 400 miles from home, many were the times she'd surprise me by visiting for the weekend and taking me and all my roommates out for dinner, or fly me home for a weekend.

Now that I'm older of course, I realize she didn't always have it easy. She stood her ground many times when it meant she wouldn't be popular. Years before my dad came to know Christ, she was committed to raising my sister and I to know and walk with the Lord. Okay, so she did have a strange way of waking us up. She'd come in our rooms, flip on the light and quote a verse from Proverbs about not being lazy! But I'm sure that was only because she'd been up long before, spending time in her Bible and on her knees in prayer - and she longed for us to start our day the same way.

So this is for you, Mom! Happy Mother's Day! Having grandchildren doesn't make you grand - you were that all along! Thanks for just doing your job . . . your girls are rising up and calling you blessed (make that "grand") today!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Book Review: The Garden of the Soul

Are you seeking to incorporate the spiritual disciplines into your life, but unsure of how that looks? Do you know that something needs to go so that you may live more attuned to God's voice, but not sure just what? Do you know you need to "be still and know that He is God" but can't seem to get off the treadmill of daily living?

If your heart answers yes to any of the above questions, you'll love The Garden of the Soul: Cultivating Your Spiritual Life, by Keri Wyatt Kent. The spiritual disciplines are for every Christian, but The Garden of the Soul puts them into the practical framework of a woman's life. Keri likens attending to the needs of our souls to tending a garden. In a refreshing and engaging manner, she takes a look at some of the areas we often tend to neglect, such as the need for solitude and silence, prayer and fasting, and Sabbath rest. She humbly shares from personal experiences some suggestions for incorporating spiritual disciplines into the landscape of our souls. Each chapter wraps up with a few questions for personal contemplation.

I found this book in our church bookstore a few months ago and have been taking my time reading it. I'd never seen this at any of the local bookstores, but Bev of Blessed Beyond Measure read an article by this author in Today's Christian Woman and promptly ordered some of her books for our church bookstore. Excellent choice, Bev! I'm sure this book would be a great read any time of year, but it seems especially appropriate smack dab in the middle of spring and major planting projects.

P.S. After writing this review this morning, I happened to see a link on Lisa Samson's blog to a review Keri did on Quaker Summer. Needless to say, I'm thrilled to have happened on a wonderful new author as well as another great author blog! Small blogging world, huh?

Simply Seven

Both Tami and Bev tagged me for this "7 Things About Me" meme and since I can't sleep for some reason, (okay and when I was, I was dreaming about my plants - like what I was going to name them!) it seems like the perfect time to do this one. So here goes . . .

  1. It doesn't really matter how cold it is outside, I cannot sleep with socks on. I try going to bed with them on sometimes, but end up frantically peeling them off in the middle of the night.
  2. I have very dexterous toes, of which I am quite proud! I can pinch pretty hard with them, and they come in handy for picking things up off the floor or removing socks in the middle of the night!
  3. I have this penchant for exhausting subjects, be they books or topics or movies. I watch almost every part of a DVD, including the special features. I read mostly every part of a book, including the table of contents and bibliography. But that's not enough. I usually have to go on the Internet and read more about the author and see if they have a website and check out their other books. If it's a movie I really enjoyed, I might check to see what else the actors starred in. Etc., etc., etc.
  4. My sister and I both started dating our husbands in September, got engaged in February and got married in October (two years apart). And our initials went from DCK (me) and DAK (her) to DCP and DAP. Weird, huh?
  5. I never eat the last bite of a sandwich. Dunno why. It's driven my mom crazy all these years though!
  6. I am not really afraid of spiders or most bugs. I don't love 'em, it's just that I grew up out in the country and you kind of get used to grasshoppers flying in your face and spiders in your bedroom. I am the resident bug killer at our house.
  7. I am going to become an aunt again this fall, for the seventh time. Cool, huh?
Good thing this was just seven things. And here's my seven tags: Christina, Stacy, Tammy, Susanne, Becky, Gail and Katrina, if they so desire to reveal seven things about themselves. No obligation though!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Blank Canvas (need some suggestions)

When we moved to this house, there was a porch on the back which we affectionately called "the room to nowhere." Literally, you couldn't get to it from inside the house. On top of that, the crazy former owners decided to close it in, complete with windows and a door. Which of course rotted out because they never did it right. Here is one of the few pics I have of that monstrosity (because really, why would you want a picture of such a thing?)

Last summer we tore off that room. Actually my husband did the tearing but you know I did the supervising! And he built this awesome porch and no - we're not closing it in!

So now we're finally getting around planting around the patio and that's where I need some suggestions. Bless my hubby's heart, he dug it up exactly like I asked, so there won't be a need for any kind of border or weedwacking (you can't see the beautiful straight up and down cut he dug). But this is where I get stalled - picking out the plants. Do I go with my Monkish, perfectionist tendencies that want everything symetrical or do I try to make it look casual, like I've got things all effortlessly under control? I'm thinking low maintenance, and things that we can easily keep under control.

Oh and then . . . while we're on a roll here . . . here's the fence, which sits to the left of the yard when sitting on the porch. It's about 48' long and runs about half the length of the yard so we still have lots of wide open spaces! Notice the "dirt" - that's where an old metal shed used to stand, which we've finally gotten rid of (seriously, we think the guy had stuff buried under there, we kept uncovering junk!" So what if anything should we plant over here? I'm so excited to create an inviting space for my feathered friends, not to mention bring a little of God's beauty back here. Oh and I'm tickled at the thought of being able to put up my hammock without wondering if the neighbors are watching!

Any and all suggestions are welcome - just don't point me to home and garden websites! They kind of frustrate me for some reason. I'd rather know what works in real life!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Movie Review: Akeelah and the Bee

When eleven-year-old Akeelah Anderson's teacher suggests she participate in the school spelling bee, she naturally resists, fearing the negative response of other kids and preferring to hide her smarts instead. But at the urging of her principal and big brother, she agrees to give it a try. Much of the film centers around the coaching sessions between Akeelah and Dr. Joshua Larabee, a distinguished academian fighting his own demons. Along the way, Akeelah learns much more than just how to spell, and long before she competes at the Scripts National Spelling Bee, she becomes a winner.

This was one of the best movies I've seen in ages. I rarely cry over a movie, but anything to do with teaching will usually bring on the tears. This was much more than just a feel-good heartwarmer, so rich with truth and life lessons for us all. The "Behind the Scenes" features on the DVD enhanced my appreciation of the movie incredibly, so I will be watching this movie once more before returning it to Netflix.

Spring Thing Reading Challenge update

It's June 10th and I'm pretty happy with my efforts to hang in there and stick to the books on my list. Three to finish, and one more to read, if I have time.

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
The Ragamuffin Gospel (Brennan Manning) non-fiction, Christian life
Bridge to Terabithia (Katherine Patterson) fiction
Quaker Summer (Lisa Samson) fiction

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (Peter Scazzero) non-fiction, Christian life
Watching the Tree Limbs (Mary DeMuth) Christian fiction

Left to Finish:
Surprised by Joy (C.S. Lewis) non-fiction, Christian life (currently reading)
Pride & Prejudice (Jane Austen) fiction (I won't let myself watch the movie until I've finished this one!) (It's looking doubtful for this one but it falls under the currently reading category!)
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 (currently reading)

Removed from the list for now (basically because I don't own or haven't borrowed these books):
The Life You Always Wanted (John Ortberg) non-fiction, Christian life (recommended by a pastor at church)
Gardenias for Breakfast (Robin Jones Gunn) fiction