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.