Thursday, December 11, 2008

Goodbye Blogger!

Unfinished Work is moving. Some glitch has been preventing me from uploading images to Blogger. And as we know, a picture is worth a thousand words, so I figure 1 picture = 4 or 5 posts. You see my rationale here? Because I obviously haven't gotten far with the 82 posts currently in draft.

A while back, I set up a blog on Wordpress but never did much with it. I decided to resurrect that one and was pleased to find Wordpress easy to navigate and much enhanced since a year ago. So I invite you to check out my Wordpress blog, and don't forget to change your links and subscriptions if you want to keep up with me (like I'm going somewhere fast!)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Art of Seeing

I recently visited a blog I haven't checked in months and found this cool post where she (a photographer) goes on a field trip of sorts. She posts pictures of herself and her "peeps" (her words) traipsing around a cemetery and then out to dinner. I loved the picture of them all at dinner, cameras aimed towards their plates!

Several thoughts ran through my mind as I viewed this post:

  1. It's all about seeing, isn't it? More and more, I'm convinced, in that respect, that living is an art unto itself. How we live our lives, how rich and full they are, how we interact with others, how we dream and strive to achieve our dreams - much of it boils down to our ability to see.
  2. So what are you looking at? What are you passionate about seeing?
  3. I think of some people as "eye-openers" - opening the hearts and minds of others to God and his world. Parents, teachers, pastors and mentors I think fall into this category. And then there are the problem-solving types - those who see a problem and delight in seeing a way through it. And then there are "see-ers" - those who simply open up the world as they see it to others. Any other kind of seeing come to mind?
  4. Seeing is best done in community! Sometimes community may be others who see in the same way you do; other times, it's community who simply appreciates your vision, and shares theirs in return. Really, without community at some point - what's the point?
  5. And lastly, seeing involves stopping, doesn't it? Maybe it's stopping to refresh yourself so you are fit to see again for others. Or stopping because you can't otherwise focus on the picture. Or stopping afterward to think about what it is you just saw and really take it all in.
I hope you'll check out my friend Sharon's art, her way of "seeing." Take a few minutes, scroll around and enjoy a view of the world through her eyes! I hope it inspires you as it did me.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Anticipation and an Advent Listen

I'm going through a great little Advent devotional this year entitled Simply Wait: Cultivating Stillness in the Season of Advent. Actually, I ordered it last year but got it too late to enjoy much of it. For this first week, the focus is on the word anticipation, a sense of expectant waiting.

So what I'm wondering is: what do you do to get into the spirit - the waiting spirit that is? Is there anything you do that helps you settle down and get past the commercial fluff and angst, and be reminded of what this season is to be about?

And another Advent question: is it just me late to the party (as usual) or are you finding an increased interest in the celebration of Advent as a major focus of the holiday season? Until about four years ago, I don't ever remember hearing of such a thing. Do you think (as I do) that it's a reaction to the emptiness many people are coming to acknowledge that has overshadowed Christmas? Or have you always celebrated Advent?

Anyways, here's my one thing: I found this CD by City on a Hill several years ago and it's the first and only Christmas music I listen to until around December 15th, which is when I get around to decorating. Actually it was the artwork that first drew me to it, and the music, a selection of songs by Christian artists Sara Groves, Caedmon's Call and others, never fails to satisfy.
If you have an MP3 player, you could easily download these tunes from Amazon or iTunes. There will be plenty of time for the traditional holiday tunes and carols; I think you'd find this a heart-stirring and delightfully uplifting change of pace.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Eyes to See

Something about this video touched me deeply. It's worth five minutes of your time and I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Christmas, Surreptitiously

For years we've battled, Father Christmas and I, each trying to get a jump on the other. Some years I've beaten him to the chase, compiling Christmas lists and plans in January and February (yes, I can be a bit crazy-proactive at times!). Shopping and crafting in June, July and August. Wrapping in October and November. And feeling free to decorate, bake and hide out in December.

Other years, he's had me and he knows it. He starts with that crazy Christmas-in-July stuff. He picks up steam in October, slipping bits of red and green amidst the peaceful calming colors of fall and peeking out from behind the Halloween costumes. (In fact, I suspect that may be why those Jack-o-Lanterns grin at me so eerily). The day after Halloween, he goes full throttle with the Christmas ads, commercials, and cheesy holiday donkey songs. The Salvation Army guys, bless their hearts, don't help much, what with their tinny-sounding trumpets belting out Christmas tunes in wacky syncopation with their bell-ringing. It's enough to make me want to hide out for the duration.

This year, I confess, I'm further behind than ever, if being ready for Christmas is measured by the number of cookies baked and presents bought and wrapped. And yet, I feel surprisingly more prepared than ever. Not ready as in " gotta-get-my-house-in-perfect-order - company's-coming." Not hardly. But ready, as in willing to turn my eyes to the mystery of Immanuel. Ready, as in anticipating the season. Ready to embrace the One who came to save us from our sins. Ready to be reminded of the joys of giving - not things, but self.

Last year our church challenged us to approach the season differently, with a series entitled Advent Conspiracy, based on some suggestions presented by this organization. This year we're doing the same. I peeked at the website and have been totally taken with this year's theme: Give Presence. When it's all said and done, isn't that what matters most? That the Holy One of God came to dwell in us and among us. And really, what better gift can we offer others than the gift of our presence? Something in me loves the idea of conspiring against the status quo (take that, you sneering Jack-O-Lantern!) No, I won't do Christmas perfectly. But in my heart I can honestly say "bring it on!" Or better yet - Come Lord Jesus!

(Disclaimer: the Father Christmas image is used here merely in jest - I'm a firm believer in St. Nick actually! Oh, and I like to think I got a jump on the old geezer by posting this prior to Black Friday!)

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Luxury of Trash

I cleaned out some closets over the weekend. I always feel sooo good when I do some major purging. This time, I didn't get rid of so much but in years, months past, have hauled away entire black garbage bags filled with clothes and "junk." But it was still good to consolidate, get rid of some empty boxes, etc.

I couldn't help thinking back to "trash day" at Gram's house when we were kids and for many years after. You see, practically everyday was trash day because out in the country, folks burned their garbage. Every other day or so, Gram would haul a little bag or two down to the burn pile and light a match to it. Only once did she manage to set the entire field on fire, but in a farming community, even that was somewhat acceptable as a way to prepare a field for planting. When my family moved next door to Gram in 1978, we used an old 55 gallon drum to burn our trash but still, it was years before we ever had sanitation services out there.

Trash management was certainly different just thirty years ago. What little couldn't be burned was usually recycled. Glass jars were used over and over again. The use of plastic for just about everything was not yet widespread. Clothing was worn out.

This wouldn't work for most people today because our trash heaps contain so much more than could be burned up easily. Some people have mountains of garbage out every week for trash collection. And we can and do throw almost everything and anything away, without thought for where it will end up. It's a luxury almost, isn't it? That in the first place, we can afford to throw so much away. And in the second place, that so much garbage is acceptable.

I'd consider myself only light green in terms of living an environmentally responsible lifestyle. I don't compost. My recycling efforts are meager at best. I'm sure I've disposed of some batteries improperly recently. But thinking about all the trash I generate is at least helping me reconsider why if I really need this or that in the first place. And I figure, maybe it's a start!

How about you? Got any [thoughts on] trash to share? Have you ever thought of garbage (disposal, etc.) as a luxury?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Music and Meditation

I've been using Pandora to listen to music at work. I can't choose the exact songs I want to hear but I get good variety within a genre and it's been a great way to be introduced to "new-to-me" artists. Recently I realized I could bookmark songs I really like, and further realized when I viewed my bookmarked music, I could easily download those tunes via Amazon (or iTunes). Yippee! 17 new songs! (Sorry, I am not an iTunes user so I can't offer you an iMix, and I can't even snag a list to post here).

So that's the music part. Now for the meditation. Yesterday morning I was blessed to spend a few hours at a nearby retreat center. I knew I wanted to spend some time in the first few chapters of I Samuel, in the story of Hannah. A book I read a few years ago had some guidelines for a retreat based on this story. Tonight while walking at the local rec center, listening to my new music on my MP3 player, I found myself still considering my reading from yesterday. And the coolest thing happened. Song after song seemed to reflect thoughts and prayers she might have had. And I was able to totally immerse myself in Hannah's story through the music.

This has also been the case as I've been listening to Charlie Hall's new CD, Bright Sadness, and especially the song New Year. I've also been reading through Colossians lately. Part of the lyrics of the song New Year remind me of how deep and full Paul's joy must have been, in contrast with his life as a mission of hatred before he came to Christ:

My heart beats like a drum, flying up with the sun,
I grab your hand again.
Renovated with life, my eyes again bright,
And you are radiant.

Where hope can hold my hand of sorrow,
and we can walk into tomorrow. . . .
This is a new year, this is a new day to rise,
Shine, and point the way to God's great life.

Both of these experiences have given me another way to appreciate the power of story in Scripture, as music has given these Biblical characters a whole new dimension for me. I love how God always finds ways like this to get through to my heart.

So I'm curious. Are there any worship songs that help you live more deeply into the stories in Scripture? How does music play into your worship?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Word of the Week: Okay!

Did you ever wonder about the origin of this word? I have, ever since my high school English teachers insisted it was not a word. Apparently in Boston newpapers circa 1830, it was fashionable to reduce a phrase to initials, with an explanation in parentheses. The abbreviations were sometimes purposely misspelled, to add to the humor. OK was used in 1839, short for all correct - the joke being that neither the O or K was correct. And there's the story that President Martin Van Buren's nickname was Old Kinderhook, which lent itself nicely to his campaign slogan!

So what does "okay" mean for me?

It's a bridge between acceptance of and embracing change. It's that point where I'm not exactly loving the changes, but I know things are going to be okay.

It's when things don't look exactly like I (or others) think they should but I remember God is nevertheless in control.

It's when I can leave work almost on time, with a pile of things left to do, knowing it will be there tomorrow. Or knowing that, in spite of what seems like a horrible mistake, things will eventually be alright. Somehow a solution will be found and life will move on.

It's that place where I can breathe.

I'm not talking about passivity here. My sister used to accuse me of being passive. Because little things like losing my keys (we found them in the sofa cushions in the lobby of our apartment bldg. a week later) and never having gas in my tank (hey, we'd just use her car) didn't bother me. I think I've come to realize much of my passive nature was really just avoidance of the truth. Okay is not denying truth or looking the other way, but moving towards acceptance.

So what are you "okay" with today? What does "okay" look like for you? Is it a good word for you, or one that denotes something negative?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

My Letter to President-elect Obama

I came across Barack Obama's new website and left this message on the contact form. There is much more I'd like to say of course, prayers I'd like to offer, etc. But this was my one thought in response to his address of the current economic situation:

Congratulations, President-elect Obama, on your historic victory. My one sincere hope as you face the economic crisis head-on is that you will remind Americans what WE can each do. It is time for us, and okay to, all tighten our belts a little and realize that our actions affect others. WE have all contributed to the situation we are in now. WE can all contribute to change, no matter what our individual social and economic situation is. My greatest dream and prayer for your administration is that you will instill a sense of community and responsibility among the citizens of this nation. There is something WE can each do and we don't have to wait on the government to do it all FOR us. WE can and need to be empowered, not by someone doing it all for us, but rather by an example of leadership that inspires us all to what is right and best, not only for ourselves but for one another.

I am hardly a political junkie. I pretty much said so here. But I can't help feeling a slight sense of awe at the workings of democracy that we saw transpire a little over a week ago. I've never written to a president before. I know my thoughts will probably never cross his desk, nevertheless it was kind of fun.

So what thoughts would you like to express to the incoming administration? Why don't you visit the website and do so? And then offer the prayers on his behalf that he is surely in need of.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Book Review: The Truth About You

I'd heard of Marcus Buckingham only recently, so I jumped at the chance to review one of his newer books, The Truth About You.

In a nutshell, Marcus Buckingham is all about playing to one's strengths, encouraging readers to listen to and move in the direction of that which energizes us. First, he says, we must identify our strengths, a strength being more than just something we're good at. A strength can be any area where we feel success, are drawn to do instinctively and/or are challenged to grow. Once readers have identified strengths, he challenges us to look for roles (career and otherwise) where our strengths will be welcomed. And lastly, he explains how to mold career situations to our strengths.

The Truth About You is an easy-to-read approach to some of life's tough questions, i.e. "what am I supposed to do with my life?" This nifty little book includes an introductory DVD (which I highly recommend watching first), a neat little memo pad for jotting down strengths, and places throughout the book to record strength statements. This would make an excellent gift for a college student or recent graduate just about to enter the work force. But anyone contemplating a career change would benefit from this book. Buckingham's passion for helping people live into their strengths shines through clearly, and his engaging style (not to mention his delightful English accent) makes it an enjoyable and worthwhile read. Preview the book here and see for yourself!

Word of the Week: Qualifications

It's funny how God chooses to get my attention. I would like to hit myself over the head sometimes; he instead is loving and gentle, meeting me right where I am. I love when he chooses to show up in my reading and learning and listening. That's the way it's been with this word, qualifications.

I'm sure I'm not alone in doubting my qualifications. I've struggled with this, my perceived lack of qualifications, over the years. The other night I was reading several selections from Glimpses of Grace, which is a collection of writings from various Madeleine L'Engle works, and this word kept leaping out at me.

"It is nothing we can do, in this do-it-yourself world. It is gift, sheer gift, waiting there to be recognized and received. We do not have to be qualified to be holy. We do not have to be qualified to be whole, or healed."

"In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, but is seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there's no danger that we will confuse God's work with our own, or God's glory with our own."

"To trust, to be truly whole, is also to let go whatever we may consider our qualifications." (All quotations from Walking on Water: Reflections on Art and Faith)

And this morning, reading in Colossians 1, verse 12 jumped out at me: and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his people in the kingdom of light.

Slowly but surely, God is enabling me to loosen my grip on this thing, and amazingly, replacing it with something too precious for words. Surely that's enough for me!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Just Sharing

I shared some thoughts over here and here recently. I really enjoy Five Minutes for Books and am appreciative of the opportunity to share some thoughts with other bibliophiles.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Book Review: The Five Dysfunctions of Team

I read The Five Dysfunctions of Team last week at the request of a friend from church in preparation for a meeting. It was a quick read and I finished it in the better part of a day (thanks to my ability to read while driving!) Patrick Lencioni is known for putting leadership and business principles in parable format. Hm, does that remind you of anyone?

In a nutshell, this is the story of Kathryn Peterson, a mid-career executive who takes the helm of a struggling software company. Having experience some rapid growth early on, as was the case with many of the Silicon Valley start-ups, Decision Tech finds itself unable to consistently reach sales and revenue goals and is thwarted in its hopes of going public. Enter Kathryn. For the first few weeks, it is business as usual, as she merely observes the company in action. Everything changes with her announcement of several off-site meetings for the executive team.

I was surprised to find myself entering into the emotional tension of this story as Kathryn faces conflict head on, and seeks to instill a true sense of teamwork among her direct reports. The story moved quickly through these critical dysfunctions that she identifies to her team via whiteboard and some team building exercises. The last chapter of the book steps away from the story and reflects on each of the dysfunctions and how they were addressed.

What surprised me is how I was able to see my own fear of conflict fleshed out in a story setting and how lack of trust has kept me from moving ahead in many areas of my life. I was challenged not to thwart in any way any team dynamics in which I play a role. I also realized how helpful it is to view my own marital relationship in a team setting. What is more important to me - my own personal security or the goals of the team? I would highly recommend this book to anyone on any kind of team, and hopefully that includes all of us!

P.S. I see the author has a new book out on the topic of family. I can't help but think I'll be reading more of this guy's work in months to come.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Word of the Week: Lockstep

Lockstep:

  1. A way of marching in which the marchers follow each other as closely as possible.
  2. A standardized procedure that is closely, often mindlessly followed.
I know, it's been a while. I should explain that this is the word for THIS week, and that there may not be a word next week or the week after. But this week this unusual word jumped out at me several times and I just had to stop and think about it. The first usage was in the political sense, as in "I used to be a lockstep Republican" (quoting from the example I read). The second instance was in a corporate setting.

So I'm wondering, is being "in lockstep" ever a desirable quality? I suppose some would say that we want to be in lockstep with Christ. But even there, looking at the gospel stories, I can't  exactly see that's what Christ had in mind. I can picture him, trudging up the dusty road and turning to see his disciples marching in tightly ordered sync behind him. Perhaps he might say something like, "You guys are too close!" And then, relieved and free to be themselves, I see Andrew dallying behind to talk to a little boy about his lunch. I see Thomas scratching his head, a million miles away and deep in thought. I see Peter running ahead, forging out opportunities.

I desire to follow Christ as closely as possible. But I am also coming to learn that he longs for me to follow him as who he created me to be and who I am becoming. In becoming more fully who he intended me to be, am I not becoming more like him? I so long to break rank and move into the freedom that is already mine.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Round on Both Ends

What's round on both ends and high in the middle? Ohio, of course! Ohio has become our favorite little getaway place over the past eight years. While many people head for Lancaster, PA or upstate New York or even New England at this time of year, Mike and I can be found sneaking off to eastern Ohio, a mere two hour drive.

We pass on the bed and breakfast spots, opting for the local Hampton Inn (our favorite), with it's inviting hot breakfasts and indoor pool and whirlpool. We rely heavily on the literature stocked in the hotel lobby and plan our course based on one of the local maps. With almost guilty pleasure, we traipse around the Amish countryside, putzing along behind horse drawn buggies and young'uns on bicycles, oblivious to the mileage we're racking up (I think we did an almost sixty mile loop yesterday). We love exploring places such as Roscoe Village and New Philadelphia and discovering little gems of restaurants tucked away off the beaten path. When in doubt, I agree with Rachel Ray: ask the locals!

I think what keeps me coming back here are the town scenes, with their white-sided houses neatly lined up behind sidewalks, shops you can walk to and folks out on the front porches being neighborly and all. Mike on the other hand always has his eyes open for good fishing spots (and good restaurants)! Between the two of us, we manage to get our money's worth out of a few days in a simple place. Our visits usually coincide with our anniversary and my birthday and so are an extra gift we give ourselves.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Too Good Not to Share

I've been enjoying some new music lately and it's just too good not to share. A true worship experience is how I'd describe Charlie Hall's new CD, The Bright Sadness. I'm the kind of person who likes the whole experience, so I've been blessed as I've read some of Charlie's thoughts behind the title of the CD, as well as the artwork. I get my money's worth out of a CD; I've had this for a little more than two weeks now and I'm still pretty much stuck on the first 2 songs. If you get a chance, do yourself a favor and check it out.

Oh and, on my way to work today I saw this great bumper sticker: Read Books, Not Bumper Stickers! Literally, I laughed out loud, knowing that for some people, bumper stickers may be the heaviest reading they do. Oh, what they're missing!

(So you're wondering . . . am I back? I'm not sure. This post just didn't fit the criteria I've set for myself on my other blog. But like I said, I couldn't keep it to myself any longer!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Change of Venue

I was going to title this post "Going Dark" or perhaps "Thanks for the Ride." But a change of venue is really what I'm after, although how that will play out is beyond me. Change of venue implies the show will go on, just not here, not now. And it's God's show anyways - something I'm becoming increasingly more aware of on a daily basis.

So for the time being, I'm hanging up the blogging shoes. It's not where I want to be or what I want to be doing right now. And if I do it, this is not how I want to be doing it. It took a week at the beach to come to this conclusion but just one day back to come to peace with that decision.

It really has been great. Thanks to all of you who've stopped by and read. To those who've taken time to comment both on the blog and in person, and especially those of you with whom I've enjoyed some great email exchanges, my deepest appreciation. You know where to find me.

So this is my last post here for now but so as to not make an abrupt departure, I'll leave things as they are for a few days. Blessings!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Beach Reads and Then Some

We'll start with the "then some." A good friend loaned me Friends for the Journey a few months ago which I fully intended to savor on vacation, the way anything by Madeleine L'Engle should be enjoyed. But my willpower was lacking and I devoured it in two days the week before we left. In this "spa for the soul," Madeleine and her long time friend, poet and publisher Luci Shaw share journal entries, reflections and poetry in this celebration of friendship. It's one of those books that invites you to just soak in the grace and goodness of the gift of friendship.

I headed to the beach with only five books in tow, in addition to my Bible. Big mistake - what was I thinking! I finished the first book, Plain Truth, in two days. As usual, Jodi Picoult tells a compelling story, this time centered in an Amish community dealing with the murder of a newborn infant by its young unwed Amish mother. Defending the naive but strong-willed Katie Lapp was the last thing high-powered attorney Ellie Hathaway wanted to do when she escaped to Lancaster County for some rest and refreshment. Readers are quickly drawn into the budding relationship that ensues between the attorney and her client, as Ellie struggles to understand the Amish way of life as it relates to sin and crime, truth and confession. Intriguing characters and a subtle surprise ending made for a fast-paced easy read.

On my pastor's recommendation, I checked out The Organic God, by Margaret Feinberg, from the library but quickly realized it was one of those books I wanted to mosey through. So I purchased it from Amazon and toted it along. In each chapter, Feinberg explores a different attribute of God - amazingly wise, outrageously generous, abundantly kind, etc. Her insights are interspersed with stories of her life in Alaska and reflective scriptural insights. The end of the book contains some "Rainy Day Reflections" - questions and scriptures to ponder in depth. I'm pretty proud of myself for still lingering in Chapter 2!

In This Beautiful Mess, another pastoral recommendation, Pastor Rick McKinley reminds readers that the kingdom of heaven which Jesus came to establish is right here and now - already but not yet. Great book but not exactly beach reading! I mean, it's hard not to feel uncomfortable about the waste and over-the-top luxury one sees at a major tourist site when you're reading about people passing out sandwiches to the homeless of their city. This was an easy but thought-provoking read that left me with more questions than answers.

Monday night I realized I was about out of reading material (the other books were a writing book and another thought-provoking one I just wasn't ready to dive into yet) and so we hit Books-A-Million where I found Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I hate to pay full price for a book but there wasn't much on the clearance rack that interested me. Then I picked up Peter Jennings: A Reporter's Life for just $5.97 - what a deal! I think this one warrants a post of its own, but suffice to say this was one of the best books I've read in a while.

It sounds like I did little else on vacation besides read, but since I get up around 6:30 or 7:00 a.m., I was able to get a few hours in before we hit the beach . . . where of course, I read some more! Besides, that's all you really wanted to know about my vacation, right?!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Four

WE HAVE A WINNER! Congratulations Viv!

To the first person who leaves a comment with the correct guess as to the significance of the above title, I will send you a 2 CD set of Steven Curtis Chapman: Greatest Hits and Now and Then. I'll give you a hint: the answer is right in front of you and has only a little to do with Celebrating the International Year of the Potato (who knew?!)

Guess away! I'll post the answer on Friday and mail out the CD set after I get back from vacation.

The Value of Desire

There's a friendly little competition ensuing between a few kids in our town (Pittsburgh) and some guys up in Michigan. Some little thing called the Stanley Cup - go figure. Last night was supposed to be the curtain call - the obligatory last song and handshake before the Pens went home in defeat.

It was not to be. Sid and Co. wanted it too badly. Enough to hang on through triple overtime, a forty some minutes of grueling effort by the kids on skates, not to mention a bit of nail-biting suspense for anyone who stayed up to watch the whole show. They reached deep inside themselves to pull off a spectacular victory, the kind that sends chills up and down your spine, or - if you're a fan of the losing team - just leaves you with your mouth hanging open in disbelief!

No matter how the series plays out, the Pens have reminded us what can happen when you really want something and put your heart and soul into making it happen. They given us one of those rare gifts, the reminder of the power of Desire. Desire inspires, doesn't it?

So, what burning desire lies within you? Who fans the flame of desire in you?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Packed!

I know you were all wondering so I'll just clear things up right now. I am almost completely packed and ready to go on vacation. I know, we're not leaving until a week from today but nothing like being prepared, right! Why so early? I have no clue, I just don't like to leave things till the last minute. 

I don't know HOW you parents with kids do it though. This year we are taking the dog. I am not thrilled in the least about having to tote extra "stuff" for MacGyver. (not thrilled with taking the dog in the first place but agreed to give it a whirl - I hope I don't end up giving HIM a whirl!) I hate toting stuff period. I have already whittled down from 3 suitcases (1 big, 2 small) to just the big one and one small one, for our overnight stop. And that's not bad, considering we have to take our own linens. But yeah, now I have to pack toys and a snuggle sack and food and food bowls and oh my! How much does one little dog need? I nixed the doggy water wings!

This is almost my ideal vacation, a week at the beach alone with my husband. My true ideal vacation: a week in New England, with nothing to take but jeans and a sweatshirt and a camera. What's your ideal vacation? Have you ever traveled with your pet?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Do You Need Anything?

That was the question I asked my aunt the other night when I went to see her at the hospital. She had been there visiting her sister and stopped by her doctor's office to inquire about her leg, which was red and swollen. Her doctor admitted her on the spot, thankfully, to be treated with antibiotics intravenously for a few days. So I was concerned that she might need something or want something from her home. No, she assured me. She was quite fine.

Amazing! She had a toothbrush in her purse, a sweet roommate, and the care and concern of people who love her. Oh, and coffee! And with that, she was content. I've been thinking about this all week. How content would I be if I found myself hospital-bound on a moment's notice, with nothing more than a toothbrush?

Probably because our church has been going through a series of messages on giving, my heart was ripe to reap some personal understanding through this little incident:

  • Stripping away our superficial wants allows us to attend to the deeper needs of our souls. What is it I really need? Do I even know? Patience. Humility. Endurance. Discernment. None of which can be easily bought.
  • Contentment and generosity seem to go hand in hand. If I'm less focused on "wants," and trusting that God will supply what it is I really need, maybe I can be more in tune to and looking for ways to meet the needs of others.
  • When we do engage in generous giving, are we attuned to the true needs of others? The challenge given by our pastor has been to look for ways to share our time, talents and treasure. Sometimes I find I am most selfish with my time, but for someone like my aunt, that's the greatest gift I can give, spending time with her.
Just some things I've been mulling over lately. I'm happy to report my aunt is home from the hospital, doing well and blessed us with her presence at our family gathering this past Sunday. She is a beautiful woman who exemplifies true contentment and a generous spirit.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ruminations and Ramblings

Sharing: I have started using Google Reader's sharing feature to highlight some interesting posts I come across in the blogosphere. Check out the links in my sidebar; it just might be one of your posts!

Classic Indy: Went to see the new Indiana Jones movie this afternoon. What can I say - it was classic Indiana Jones! Sure, we all know people don't go around swinging from vines, that giant moving obelisks are just a figment of imagination and that no one could possibly withstand all the head blows Harrison Ford has endured as Henry Jones Jr. over the years but give me a few bars of "da da-da-da, da da-da-da . . . " and for two hours just about anything goes! If you get a chance, go check it out.

Cleaning: Finally, a day off and some time to tackle some things I've managed to put off for months. Back-to-back company plans this weekend are a good motivating factor.

Vacation: Two weeks from today we leave for the beach. We haven't been to Myrtle Beach in about five years so we're looking forward to it. Our goal is to play as much miniature golf as we can - I think MB has about the coolest courses around. We are taking our Boston Terrier, MacGyver, with us for the first time. This should be interesting. Already I envision HIS stuff taking up over have the room in the car (and I'm really a minimalist so this goes against my basic nature of liking the car nice and empty for traveling!) Any tips regarding vacationing with a pet would be much appreciated!

Memorial Day: I get Veterans' Day. In the past, when I was off on Veteran's Day, I liked to visit a memorial at a local library and greet and thank some of the vets. Memorial Day, however, seems to be obscured by our enthusiasm for the beginning of summer. In fact, many people today don't even know the reason we observe Memorial Day. Do you do anything to observe Memorial Day as far as its original intention goes, i.e. to honor the memory of those who have died in service to our country? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Quick Meme: My sister recently joined the blogging world, and just did her first meme - Things That Make Me Go Eeew! If you get a chance, pop on over and read her list (and take a look at my beautiful nieces and nephews!) I had to think hard about this one but here are a few things that creep me out - I guess I have a pretty strong stomach.

  1. Mouth stuff. Don't need to see the neat pictures of the inside of my mouth at the dentist, thank you very much.
  2. Underwater life, with the exception of mammals like whales and dolphins. Don't know why but sea life (even confined to a tank at the pet store, unless it's under 2 inches long) has always creeped me out.
  3. The sound of someone barfing or hacking makes me feel like I could puke.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Book Review: Mudhouse Sabbath

A few months ago I read a fabulous book by Lauren Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath. A follow-up to her equally interesting memoir, Girl Meets God, which chronicles her journey from Judaism to Christianity, Mudhouse Sabbath is a reflective look back at some of the Jewish practices Lauren realizes are missing from her new life.

One of the chapters that impacted me most dealt with the importance of hospitality. More than just inviting others into our homes, Winner encourages us to open our hearts and lives to others as well. She gives the example of how reluctant she was to invite others to her small apartment, and the reality of what she was saying by her reluctance to do so:

"We are not meant simply to invite people into our homes, but also to invite them into our lives. Having guests and visitors, if we do it right, is not an imposition, because we are not meant to rearrange our lives for our guests - we are meant to invite our guests to enter into our lives as they are. . . . So you see, asking people into my life is not so different than asking them into my apartment. Like my apartment, my interior life is never going to be wholly respectable, cleaned up and gleaming. But that is where I live. In the certitude of God, I ought to be able to risk issuing the occasional invitation."

This little book reads somewhat like a devotional, emphasizing the intentionality integral to many Jewish customs such as prayer, fasting and Sabbath-keeping. As well it explores ways to honor God where aging, mourning, and the celebration of marriage are concerned. While both Girl Meets God and Mudhouse Sabbath stand alone, it makes sense to read Girl Meets God first. If you could only purchase one of them though, I think Mudhouse Sabbath is a keeper.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The New Chew

I figured out what's been keeping me up late so many nights! I've been eating chocolate covered espresso beans. So if you stop by my desk at work, and see some wet coffee beans in the garbage can . . . well, I figured out I can have my chocolate, and a good night's sleep too! (Yes, sucking the chocolate off and spitting out the beans - brilliant, huh!) Really, I should just switch to Raisinets - they make wonderful dark chocolate ones now!

But hey . . . if you stop to see me at work, just take me to lunch and skip the garbage can part!!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Filling in the Gaps

When I think of filling in the gaps, many pictures come to mind. If you live in Pennsylvania, where the state activity is avoiding pot holes, you're ever grateful for the days PennDOT smiles on you and fills in the gaps on the roads you travel. I think of meals I've planned and invited friends and how thankful I was for whatever it was they brought, filling in the gaps in the menu. I think of my seasonal shopping efforts, trying to fill in the gaps in my wardrobe.

Mostly however, I think of relationships and God's direction. I'm amazed at how God uses people to fill in the gaps in our lives, the right people at the right time. And how he goes before us, filling in the gaps in our path. With each step of certainty we take, there's some uncertainty that lies ahead, but God is always faithful to show us that next step.

This phrase "filling in the gaps" has been on my mind so much lately. And just tonight I was looking back through my journal from this time last year and was surprised to see this phrase used several times in one particular entry. What a cool God-thing! Last year, I was thanking God for the way he was filling the gaps in my life, mostly through people, and over the past year it's been evident that he's been going ahead of me, making my way smooth (not necessarily easy but clear).

Recently however, I've been praying for God to fill in the gaps in others' lives, to go before them and make his ways apparent. For those in transition, that God will see them through this season and that they will trust that God is standing at the door, ready to welcome them into the next season of their lives. For those in a place of decision, that they will have clarity and discernment for the road ahead. For those in relational struggles, that God will bring along the right people to offer love and encouragement. And many more whispered prayers that can barely find words, but once again, God fills in those gaps too.

I love that nothing about our journey through life escapes our great God, not even the tiniest pot hole!

The path of the righteous is level; O upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth. Isaiah 26:7
I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16

Monday, May 12, 2008

Spring Cleaning

It's become my practice over the last year to just sit with this prayer most mornings:

A Prayer in 'The Middle Years' of Opportunity
from Celtic Daily Prayer (based loosely on a passage from Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh)

Lord, help me now to unclutter my life,
to organize myself in the direction of simplicity.
Lord, teach me to listen to my heart;
teach me to welcome change, instead of fearing it.
Lord, I give You these stirrings inside me,
I give you my discontent,
I give you my restlessness,
I give you my doubt,
I give you my despair,
I give you all the longings I hold inside.
Help me to listen to these signs of change, of growth;
to listen seriously and follow where they lead
through the breathtaking empty space of an open door.

This morning, I asked myself (and God) the hard question: what is it that is cluttering my life? Not surprisingly, I realized that much of what clutters my life are the intangible things. Fear. Anxiety over the silliest things. Mental to-do lists. Even some dreams perhaps that are left over from another time in my life.

And what would it look like to organize myself in the direction of simplicity? This phrase just speaks volumes to me. Organizing reminds me that these are steps I can take. And direction reminds me that there will always be room for improvement - it's movement not arrival that should matter to me. And simplicity - a picture came into my mind of open space. And again, not just in the tangible realm, but where my relationship to God is concerned. Room to move and grow and listen. Freedom to give and share my life with others.

As spring vaults into full bloom and we turn our attention to matters of spring cleaning, perhaps it's a good reminder for all of us to look inward and tend to some decluttering of our heart spaces.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Mighty To Save and Miscellaneous

Been listening this song this week that we sang in worship last week. Our pastor put together an iMix for our current worship series and so far this is my favorite. I kind of get stuck on one song at a time; you may have noticed!

Mighty To Save
(Hillsong)
Everyone needs compassion
A love that's never failing
Let mercy fall on me
Everyone needs forgiveness
A kindness of a Savior
The hope of nations

Savior
He can move the mountains
My God is Mighty to save
He is Mighty to save
Forever
Author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave

So take me as You find me
All my fears and failures
Fill my life again
I give my life to follow
Everything I believe in
Now I surrender

Shine your light and let the whole world see
We're singing for the glory of the risen King...Jesus

And feeling like I had some major hurdles to overcome this week, I was reminded of this verse from Psalms:
With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall. (Psalm 18:29)

By the way, is this May? Just wondering because I'm still wearing my long sleeve shirts and jeans. My toes were wondering too . . . they'd like to get out and enjoy the sunshine . . . I told them there hasn't been much of that!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Road Closed

As I traveled to work this morning, I was less than thrilled to find a major road leading to the interstate closed. Some warning would have been appreciated. I felt trapped, as both the detour and the alternate way I chose were backed up to a stand still.

I was reminded of an interesting little book I read last week entitled Let Your Life Speak, by Quaker author Parker Palmer. I borrowed it from a friend and read it so quickly (on my way to work several mornings) that I didn't even stop to jot down any notes. Nevertheless one chapter came to mind this morning as I pondered my traffic options. It was called When Way Closes, and basically dealt with the idea that closed doors can be as much a guide and direction as are open doors, if we're paying attention.

When we were kids, growing up in the country, we'd often watch the neighbor's sheep at dinner time race down the hill. There was no shepherd, not even a dog to guide them. Instead they bumped along the path created by the fence, and were directed into whatever pasture the farmer wanted them to go by means of his closing certain gates. They were guided along the path by the closed gates.

Eventually I made it to work this morning, and did so with a new perspective, to pay attention to closed doors and detours as guides directing me forward along the path, rather than trip-ending obstacles.

How do you feel when a door closes or when you're faced with obstacles? Do they set you back or challenge you to move ahead?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Art and Beauty

I had to take my car to the shop the other day to get an estimate on some body work I need done (IMHO a little unnoticeable ding but to my husband, an embarrassing eyesore!) The estimator spent about 15 minutes explaining my options to me, waving his hands over the car as he did so. You could tell he enjoys his work. As I was pulling away, I noticed a tech getting ready to pull a wrecked car into the garage. And I wondered if he looked at that car as a kind of blank canvas, or ugly lump of clay, just waiting for him to draw out the beauty.

Later that week, I was in a meeting at work where several members of our accounting group were explaining some of their processes to our group of sales and customer service personnel. I swear I saw their eyes light up as they elaborated on what seemed to be tedious and mind-boggling procedures.

And that got me thinking, I wonder if everyone sees beauty in what they do, if they view their work as art. Or is that reserved for certain personality types?

For me, beauty emerges when things work together properly. When I can have a hand in that, all the better. When words line up as they should, to draw forth a picture of what is most true, that's beautiful to me. When I'm cooking and ingredients come together just right, and flavors marry well, that's beautiful to me. I don't often find this in my day job, although occasionally, when I'm working on a big project that requires a lot of creative thinking to pull things together, I get a glimpse of beauty in a very odd sort of way. Back in the day, I used to do quite a bit of artwork - mostly calligraphy, sign lettering, some graphic design and a bit of watercolor and pen and ink work. That, although art and enjoyable, was not necessarily beauty to me. Why? It usually didn't involve much creativity.

How important is beauty to you? How do YOU perceive beauty? Do you feel compelled to create beauty, or are you content to just enjoy it? I ask, mostly out of curiosity, wanting to get a glimpse of how others view work and life. Is your work beautiful or do you find it elsewhere? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Connections Missed and Made

Like a pair of bookends, my weekend was caught between two missed connections. A friend and I were supposed to meet Saturday morning. At 8:35 am at Panera, I had a feeling something had gone wrong. My friend is punctual and organized and (at least to my knowledge) not the type to be running late. And I knew in a flash what happened. She went to the Panera near my house while I went to the one near her house. (I missed that little detail in the string of eight or so emails it took to arrange our get-together!) With the exception of 45 minutes missed, we ended up having a good time catching up. Lucky for me, she's a good blogging friend, so we keep in touch that way too.

This evening, I headed for the local gym to meet a friend from church. On my way, I heard a pop and that annoying sound like someone just let the air out of my tire. Ooops! I had run over a piece of metal and just like that - there went my hopes of a walk, while I sat and waited for the motor club guy to come bail me out. For once, I didn't even have a book with me - a rare occasion for which I gave myself a sound thrashing!

In the middle was time spent with my parents, my sister and her crew to celebrate my dad's birthday. I was tickled pink that my baby niece let me hold her . . . we think she must have confused me with her mom - what do you think? (As is our unintentional habit, my sister and I showed up dressed alike - white t-shirts and denim capris!)


Friends to miss and family to love . . . I guess it doesn't get any better than that.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Story of Jack and John

Jack went to work one day. He wasn't feeling so well. He excused himself from a meeting and went to his office. A co-worker went to check on him and found him dead of a massive heart attack.

John wasn't feeling so well either. He mentioned this to his doctor who ordered some tests. John had a stress test and a heart catheterization which indicated the immediate need for major bypass surgery.

Jack was a much loved co-worker. He was 59 years old. Over a year later, he is still greatly missed.

John is my dad, a much loved dad and grandpap. We will celebrate his birthday tomorrow, a little over a month after his bypass surgery. He is slowly but surely recovering and enjoying life again without chest pain.

We are amazing creatures. God has wired us in such a way that when something is not right, our systems alert us. Just like emotions can inform us (something I am learning a lot about), so our bodies let us know when something is awry. Pain, fatigue, etc. - are all signals something might be out of order. Are we listening? Are we too busy to listen to what our bodies might be saying or are we just afraid to hear the painful truth? The truth being that we are limited, finite creatures and every breath is a gift from God of which there is no guarantee of another.

Soooo . . . are you listening to your body and what it might be saying to you? As well, are you helping those you love listen to their bodies and what they might be experiencing? For the sake of those you love, and those who love you . . . LISTEN!

(My dad and his new buddy, Buttons! Happy Birthday, Dad. Thanks for listening!)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Obsessions, Passions and Addictions

So I'm reading along in that great classic by Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones. And she has this chapter on writing about our obsessions. Because, as she says, whether we acknowledge them or not, they're part of us. Some of them, the main ones, probably have power over us and may emerge again and again in some form, be it in our writing or just our everyday living. So rather than deny them, she says to write about them. I don't think she means to write entire books (or even blog posts) about them, but just to get them out. Acknowledge them head on. In getting them out, you can probably put them to good use.

Immediately I started making a list, right there in the book. The first thing that came to mind was coffee (I was in a coffee shop as I read that chapter). Can one be obsessed with coffee? I don't think it's exactly an addiction. I drink mostly decaf and don't get the jitters or headaches associated with a caffeine addiction. But most days, one of the primary things on my mind is where and when am I going to get a good cup of coffee. Ideally it's at home. But that doesn't always happen. When I went away in February, I thought I would die - when you travel with a tea drinker and an "anything goes" coffee drinker, you know your chances of a good "cuppa" are slim to none. I swear I felt a little panic set in, but perhaps that was associated with my utter dislike of airports and travel in general.

Another obsession of mine is about as pathetic. Socks. I love socks. But socks must match - period. It's probably a hangover from Bible college days when casual dress meant a long denim or khaki skirt, socks and tennis shoes (over pantyhose - we were not allowed to go without!) I guess the best thing I had going for me was my socks! My poor feet have been cringing in embarrassment all day because my socks are navy blue and my jeans are black.

This was a fun line of thinking to explore. What are my obsessions? My addictions? My passions? Have I clearly defined the difference in my mind? What do I dwell on, subconsciously as well as consciously? Where's my heart? Am I giving anything power over me that belongs to God? Lots of good journaling fodder!

Funny, when I went on retreat in April, the coffee thing didn't cross my mind. Which tells me obsessions don't have to possess me. Tomorrow maybe I'll wear two different color socks, just to psyche myself out!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Word of the Week: Dwell

Dwell: to remain for a time; to live as a resident; to keep the attention directed upon>dwell on my fears> (m-w.com)

So we're back to WOTW posts and this word just drew me in this week. It's one of those that rolls around on your tongue and makes you wonder how in the world it ever made it's way into the English language. It's rich and multi-layered.

I love that God throughout history has always sought to dwell with mankind. From the garden to the wilderness, from the temple to the Babylonian captivity, till Jesus came and "moved into the neighborhood" (John 1:14 MSG), and now through the presence of the Holy Spirit, God wants to be with us. And yet, he has done more than just take up residence among us. Not only does he want to be with us, his thoughts are toward us, dwelling upon us! We are the apple of his eye.

It occurs to me that it's possible to live somewhere and yet not really be there. You can live in a house but not make it a home. You can attend church without being church. You can be in a relationship without being fully engaged in it. You can profess to be part of God's family without being rooted and experiencing growth. Am I truly dwelling in, am I present in each and every relationship and situation God has ordained for me? Or am I merely taking up residence?

One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27:4

Friday, April 18, 2008

Four Bucks, Four Bucks, Four Bucks!

* Updated. I won! Two bucks, two bucks, two bucks!

I've had good luck buying clothes off eBay, believe it or not. Usually because I'm just looking to fill in a gap in my wardrobe . . . white blouse, black jeans, etc. I stick to the 3 L's (Land's End, LL Bean and Levi) and just check for the item in my size.

So I was thrilled to see a Land's End khaki skirt in my size with a starting bid of just $1.99. The same skirt new would run about $39. What a deal. Being the generous, lavish soul that I am, I figured I'd bid $4.00. Four bucks, four bucks, four bucks. With shipping, that would bring the total to $10, which suits me just fine.

Now I have bid competitively on eBay for a few things. You know, where you sit and try to outbid someone down to the wire. I think I've done that twice. But I'm not a very competitive person. Usually I stick to Buy-It-Now items, or I enter my max bid and am done with it. Whatever will be, will be . . . let the bids fall where they may.

But for some reason yesterday I checked back on my bid. I really wanted that skirt. I'd be willing to pay a little more perhaps. Wonder if anyone else is looking at it? I'm so glad I looked. You won't believe how much I bid. Not $4. Not $40.00. Not even $400.00. Nope - I bid $4000.00 for a used skirt! Yikes!

And do you know what I did? Those of you who know me will not be surprised at this. I laughed. That's right, I laughed. Sometimes that's all I can think to do when I've done something really, really dumb.

When reality finally sunk in, I figured I'd have a hard time explaining this one to my husband, and I better start trying to remedy the situation. I sent off a frantic email to the seller, pointing to my 100% rating and begging for mercy. Then I figured out you can actually retract a bid on eBay in these kind of situations, so long as you rebid immediately. Whew!

Like I said, I almost always get great deals on eBay!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

When I Am

And God said, "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain." Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" God said to Moses, "I am who I am . This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.' " Exodus 3:12-14

When Moses asked God for references so he could save face in front of his fellow Israelites, God did not reply with an impressive list of accomplishments. He did not remind Moses that he had created the universe, formed the earth out of nothing and fashioned man from mere dust. He did not parade the animals in front of him or give him a science lesson about the propagation of fruits and flowers. God did not feel the need to explain his background, nor did he tell Moses of all the wondrous works he planned to do. He simply said, "I AM."

How different from my tendency to constantly polish up my resume, mental and otherwise. Something happens however, as I learn to cease from my strivings and just be . . . when I am confident in God's love, living in the shadow of the cross, content with who I am and trusting God for who I am becoming. There is always time to do, to write, to speak, to serve. But if these don't come out of who I am, they are futile efforts, like trying to hurl a dandelion globe into the wind - they come flying back into my face.

We are not "I AM" - that belongs to God alone. But we are "I am," and understanding the essence of who we are and who God created us to be and just resting in that truth has to be the foundation of all we do.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Staying With the Questions

This past Sunday evening the retreat began with dinner, an opening session followed by evening prayer and then the "great silence," in which we were challenged to just be quiet for the night. Quiet for me meant not calling home, and avoiding the urge to dive into the one book I brought along, just because I think I have to be reading every spare moment! I noted in my journal about some tension I'd been experiencing and about which I was hoping to get some answers during these few days. Not tension as in stress, but that kind of tension that leaves you feeling pulled, often between two good things.

Wouldn't you know it, the next morning that was the topic of the first session - tension! (I never thought about all the tensions ministry leaders experience - between being and doing, truth telling vs. image management, etc.)

Needless to say, my heart perked up at the word "tension." Aha! Thank you in advance, God, for the answer. I'm all ears. Oops! Not quite. There wasn't an answer per se but rather a third way - the way of grace that comes with discernment. A challenge to stay with the questions. To be with the tension in God's presence. The creative tension, the leader referred to this as.

I can't tell you how world-rocking this was for me. I'm not exactly comfortable with questions. I want answers. But coming to understand that God is in the questions - well, I kind of want to be there.

I've been intrigued by this idea of questions vs. answers lately and recently started going through the book of Genesis, underlining questions. The first three questions God asks are rather revealing: Where are you? Who told you you were naked? What is this you have done? It was through these questions that God spoke to mankind about the truth of their situation. Jesus continues with the question approach throughout his ministry. So it makes sense to me to learn to welcome questions and even be able to ask them of myself.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Solid Places

I'll tell you a secret. Even though I am a person who loves order, much of my life has been lived in disorder. You know - the squeaky wheel syndrome. Whatever squeals the loudest generally gets my attention. Trying to keep it together but not always managing where it matters most, in my soul. I have this mental image of myself as a would-be trapeze artist of sorts, mostly swinging about in mid-air, always grasping for that solid place, something to hold on to. Lots of holding my breath in between. Lots of flopping onto the net below. Hardly artistic!

But as I think more about trapeze artists, their art is centered around those solid places. The beginning platforms, those swinging bars or the outstretched hands of their fellow artists. Never getting off the platform would be pointless. Always hanging on to the bar would hardly be artistic. And the gravity factor makes constant hanging in mid-air impossible! The beauty of trapeze work is actually centered in the rhythm of grasping and letting go. And that's the way I want, I need, my life to be ordered - around solid places that are as much a part of faith as the day to day unknowns.

So what does this look like for a person who never plans to leave solid ground? I think for me it boils down to being intentional about some familiar Christian practices. Instead of acknowledging them as merely good ideas, realizing they need to be the bedrock around which my days revolve:

  1. Silence - making a point to just sit and be quiet for a few minutes most mornings before I head off into the fray, even before I open my Bible.
  2. Midday prayer - stopping in the middle of the day to spend a few minutes in prayer, usually written prayers. Because in the middle of the day, I really can't focus as well, it helps to just pray through the same psalm or other form of written prayer.
  3. Evening review - taking time, as often as I remember, to just pause and think about the day before I drift off to sleep. A while back I read where a parent uses these three questions with his child at the end of the day: What was good about your day? What was hard about it? And where was God in this day? Somehow just pausing at day's end to look back and be thankful for God's presence seems to tie my days together a little better, helping me remember that God is the one who ordains my days.
Establishing healthy life-giving rhythms such as these was the focus of the retreat I participated in over the past few days. I had previously done a bit of reading on the topic, especially in two books by Ruth Haley Barton, who facilitated the retreat: Invitation to Solitude and Silence and Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. So this was a great experience, time to put these rhythms into practice for an extended period of time and to consider how to continue to integrate such rhythms into my life.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Off the Page

"Off the page" is the phrase that comes to mind to describe what I've been experiencing in my life lately. Think three dimensional. Think comic strip characters brought to life on the big screen. Off the page and into real life. Think John 1:14: "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." And think 2 Corinthians 3:2: "you yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone."

What am I talking about? God keeps bringing people into my life who are living "off the page," so to speak. Living out the word of God in a real and powerful way that is speaking volumes into my life.

It's not like I haven't always had people like this in my life. My mom, for example, has consistently lived out her faith in such a way that has inspired both my sister and me over the years. I think the difference perhaps is that God's just been working over the soil of my heart, loosening up some very hardened ground and creating an increased sense of receptivity. The popular song lyric "open the eyes of my heart" comes to mind.

I think for the first time in my Christian life I'm starting to understand and appreciate the importance of community with other believers. I'm by nature a pretty private person, so it was easy for me to take the concept of a "personal relationship with Christ" to an extreme! But I'm learning that growing together is the way God meant for it to be. Yes, as some of us were discussing this morning, the commitment to growth is my responsibility. Only I can say "yes" to God and take that next step. But God really doesn't intend for that to happen in a vacuum. Again - nothing new here - except that I'm finally coming into awareness of this truth. Blogging has been instrumental in this awareness, in creating a safe space for me to share and in the sense of community it has offered, and so I have to thank each of you for being part of this journey over the last few years.

I'll be away for the next few days on a retreat of sorts - as opposed to the more or less private retreat I did last year, this will be more of a group experience. I don't exactly know what to expect but I'm quite excited about this opportunity. I would greatly covet your prayers that I will be open to God's voice and direction during this time, and that I would appropriately respond to his invitation to live life "off the page."

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

God of Our Yesterdays

I've been reading a great little book by Chris Tomlin called The Way I Was Made (thanks MC!) I think it was geared towards either youth or would-be worship leaders but God has spoken volumes to me through this little book. And who'd think a singer/songwriter would have such a way with words, but for Chris, the words seem to flow as easily on the written page as they do through his powerful music. Anyways, one chapter towards the end encouraged me to stop and ponder what God has done. Chris asks, "Can you look back along the road of faith and see how God has graciously worked in your life?" And I had to say, although I don't jump up and down about every stage of my life, realizing and remembering that God has been with me every step of the way does make me want to jump up and down.

And then on my way to work this morning, this song by Matt Redman came on that just reminded me that the God of my yesterdays is still very much at work in my life today.

God of Our Yesterdays
We were in the darkest night,
And wondered if our eyes would ever see the light,You were there, Lord,
We were in the storm again,
And wondered if we'd ever live in peace again,
You were there, Lord,
You were there is the struggle,
You were there in the fire,
You were there all the time.

Praise you, the God of our yesterdays,
Praise you, the God who is here today,
Praise you, our God, as tomorrow comes.

So whatever lies ahead,
Whatever roads our grateful hearts will come to tread,
You'll be there, Lord,
And we will fix our eyes on you,
And know that there is grace enough to see us through,
You'll be there, Lord,
You'll be there is the struggle,
You'll be there in the fight,
You'll be there all the time.

Praise you, the God of our yesterdays,
Praise you, the God who is here today,
Praise you, our God, as tomorrow comes.
We thank you for grace in our yesterdays,
We thank you for peace in our hearts today,
And thank you, our Joy, as tomorrow comes,
We will trust you, God.

You're always closer than we know,
Always more involved and in control,
We will trust our lives to you,
The One who was, and is, and is to come!

Praise you, the God of our yesterdays,
Praise you, the God who is here today,
Praise you, our God, as tomorrow comes.
We thank you for grace in our yesterdays,
We thank you for peace in our hearts today,
And thank you, our Joy, as tomorrow comes,
We will trust you, God.

Friday, March 28, 2008

When All Else Fails

A friend asked me why I hadn't been posting lately. The short answer - I got nothin'. Lots of drafts, nothing finished. Like soup, still simmering. La de da and you really don't want to know all the thoughts running through my brain on that one right now (actually they've kind of burrowed their way into my heart I think!)

In the interim, till I come up with something worth sharing, here's a hodgepodge of stuff - a lone flower poking it's head up through the thawing ground, just to let you know I'm still alive!

How's this for a great quote?

Earth is crammed with heaven,
and every common bush afire with God
but only he who sees
takes off his shoes. ~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning

My dad had quad bypass surgery last week. Although it seemed kind of sudden, looking back we can see God's perfect timing. He is doing well, thanks to my mom's wonderful care.

My dad is getting a new best friend . . . a Yorkie puppy! My mom read somewhere that people, men especially, who own a pet, have a much greater life expectancy. And voila! They're getting a dog! I just thought that was so sweet and can't wait till we're called upon to dog-sit! Here's a picture of Sir Buttons!


The other morning I awoke to a terrible surprise. My favorite morning show that I always woke up to was GONE! (That would be Gary and Beth on 92.9 FM for you 'Burghers!) Gone. Just. Like. That. I remember about 17 years ago the same thing happened . . . Dusty Rhodes hosted a great morning show on what is now WORD FM and one morning he was just gone.

Yesterday my friend went to get us coffee at lunch and ! our favorite place (Caribou Coffee) was no more. Just like that! Is it me? Reminds me of that terrible year in which my doctor, dentist and ob-gyn all quit. They were kind enough to send me letters at least. The coffee shop just closed.

On the topic of going out of business, what do you think when you see this happen? I hate to see it happen but I always think to myself - hey, at least they started something! How many of you have started your own business? Oh yeah, that reminds me - I have! (Really . . . I just need to get busy with it!)

Did you know that traditionally Easter is/was celebrated by the church as a season, not just a single day? Kind of makes sense, doesn't it? I mean one day people see Jesus hanging on the cross, his body bruised and bleeding beyond recognition. Days later he is walking amongst them, talking and eating with them. Do you think they went on living life as usual the day after the Resurrection? So why should we? Learning to view "holidays" as seasons has been a big on-going "a ha" moment for me of late.

Speaking of seasons, can I tell you how happy I am that spring has finally arrived (although she still seems a bit iffy on a 40F day in Pittsburgh)! I am convinced that the seasons, be they spring-summer-winter-fall or rainy/dry, are God's way of teaching us how to move through the seasons of our lives. We only get one chance at that, but every year God gives us a refresher course in how to adjust to transitions.

Lastly, speaking of transitions, I came across some thoughts I jotted down from our Bible study last summer that seemed worth sharing (and I apologize I can't recall the exact source). Some questions to ask yourself when you realize you're in a time of transition:
What are you grateful for?
What do you need to let go of?
What do you need to take hold of?
And who do you trust?


And to my 2 blogger friends who are still waiting in the wings . . . what are you waiting for, girls? (you know who you are!!) Come on and join the fun!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Spring Thing Reading Challenge

So my friend Katrina graciously hosts a wonderful reading challenge each spring and fall, with books galore to give away and a wonder way to see what others are reading. I almost didn't participate this time around. The thought of making a list and including all the links just kind of overwhelmed me. Then I remembered - I've got a list! I've been using Shelfari for several months now and it's been a great way to keep track of books I'm reading as well as those I plan to read.

So check out the list in my sidebar or hop on over if you'd like to see more stuff I plan to read. Some of these I'm just about finished with but they don't budge from the list until I've finished them, cover to cover. Our vacation falls within the Spring Reading Challenge and that's when I usually indulge in more fiction but I don't really have a list for that yet. Here's just a few notes re: my selections and I really hope Katrina doesn't disqualify me for cheating by using Shelfari!

I'm especially looking forward to Praying With the Church, by Scot McKnight, since I enjoyed The Jesus Creed by him. And he recently interviewed Nancy Ortberg on his blog about her new book, Looking for God, which piqued my interest and made the list as well. The Right to Write by Julia Cameron is one of those books I'll be reading for several months, and may never finish, but each chapter provides some writing encouragement and an exercise (I'm on #6). I expect to finish Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (my second time through and one of my favs) and Gift from the Sea within a day or so. I loved The Kite Runner, and the sequel, a Thousand Splendid Suns, promises to be even better.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Basin and the Towel

This week has been anything but a holy one for the disciples. One minute they were dreading the trip to Jerusalem, the next they were breathing a sigh of relief as they saw the crowd praising and acclaiming him as king. They could barely look ahead from one day to the next, each moment giving rise to the deafening crescendo, the death of their friend and master.

Yet in the midst of this turmoil comes a moment of respite, as Jesus calls them away to share the Passover meal together. And tucked away in this account of their last meal together comes the most tender of moments. The one who days before had been acclaimed by all as King, and who would soon bear the greatest agony ever known to man, kneels before each of them in humility and tenderly washes their feet.

Peter speaks for all of them when he asks Jesus what he’s doing. And Jesus assures him that, although they can't possibly understand it now, someday they will. The disciples squirm in discomfort as they watch and wait their turn. Why was their master humiliating himself like this, performing a task reserved for the lowliest of servants? I imagine him as he approached each of them, looking up at them with gentle eyes and whispering words of assurance, perhaps sharing a memory or two. “I love you. I care about you. I know you’re afraid of what lies ahead. I understand. And I’m here for you.”

In this time of great uncertainty about their future, perhaps Jesus was saying, "This is how you'll be able to go on. Be in community with one another. Be there for each other. When it comes to serving your brother, nothing is beneath you. Quit worrying about your place in the pack. It's not about you; it's about each other."

I think Michael Card, in his song The Basin and the Towel, captures the essence and beauty of this night:

In an upstairs room
A parable is just about to come alive
And while they bicker about who's best
With a painful glance He'll silently rise
Their Savior Servant must show them how
Through the will of the water
And the tenderness of the towel

In any ordinary place
On any ordinary day
The parable can live again
When one will kneel and one will yield
Our Savior Servant must show us how
Through the will of the water
And the tenderness of the towel

And the space between ourselves sometimes
Is more than the distance between the stars
By the fragile bridge of the servant's bow
We take up the basin and the towel

CHORUS
And the call is to community
The impoverished power that sets the soul free
In humility to take the vow
That day after day we must take up
The basin and the towel


(c)1994 Birdwing Music (a div. of the Sparrow Corporation) (ASCAP)
From Poiema by Michael Card

Sunday, March 16, 2008

She's Changing My Life

Dark brown hair. Deep brown eyes that seem to peer back into my own. I picked her because she's the same age as my oldest niece but the similarities I think stop there. I look at her picture daily and am reminded how different her life is from mine. It puts my life in perspective. I could wish for her to have a life like mine, a privileged American living the dream, but is that what she really needs? Actually is it even what I need?

I’m reminded how we live in such a disposable society and how likely it is that she thrives on what others dispose of, including some of our disposable income, my few monthly dollars that go towards child sponsorship. Her clothes are most likely hand-me-downs or even cast offs. Her shoes – geez, I wonder if she even owns a pair and if they fit well and how far she has to walk each day and if she’s ever ridden in a car. I’m sure she doesn’t fret about rising gas prices like I do, but no doubt they affect her life in the long run. I can’t help thinking about her whenever I go to purchase a cup of coffee, wondering if she even had clean water to drink that day – and enough of it, with 4 or 5 siblings.

I think about all that goes into a mealtime for me - the preparation and decision making. I have choices and how often do I choose less than the best? Chances are she doesn't have many choices when it comes to eating. It is merely life-sustaining, if it is that at all. I have the luxury of time and space to think and dream. I wonder if she has any dreams for her life, beyond just surviving until the next day, in a country plagues by AIDS and hunger. I so take Jesus for granted, along with the multiple Bibles I own but often neglect, and I wonder if she’s ever heard his name and what he means to her.

At the end of the day, we’re not so very different, she and I. We both need a living breathing relationship with God our creator. And we’re both loved and cared for by our awesome God. We're connected by people at World Vision who make it possible for those of us who have way more than we'll ever need to share with those who have way less than they really need. Oh yes, I give a few dollars a month (really, about the cost of a daily cup of coffee - which I can still afford) towards her sponsorship, in hopes that she will thrive and that her community will grow into a self-sustaining entity. But she has already given me so much more.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Waiting Game

I always thought of myself as a pretty patient person. But lately I've come to realize that being passive (something I've been lovingly accused of) about something does not necessarily constitute patience in waiting. I think waiting is actually more active than it is passive. It implies a sense of prayerful expectation, doesn't it? Was Jacob waiting when he wrestled with the angel at the brook? Was Noah waiting while he built the ark?

What does waiting look like for you? What are you waiting for? And how do you know when the answer comes? (most likely just questions to be answered within your heart!) (and a p.s. in response to Becky's comment below - isn't the answer sometimes more than just something we "get"? Seems like sometimes it comes in the form of just clarity or direction or renewed hope.)

In the meantime, I'm returning to my own little waiting game! Leaving you with some lyrics that have blessed me in recent days:

When I am tired You bring me comfort
(I will wait; I will wait for You)
When I am weak You give me strength
(I will wait; I will wait for You)
When I can't walk You give me wings like an eagle
(I will wait; I will wait for You)
When I'm alone You bring me peace
(I will wait)
I will wait for Your mercy
I will wait for Your plan to unfold
I will wait for Your mercies are new every morning
When I am wounded You heal my broken bones
(I will wait; I will wait for You)
And when I sing You fill my heart with joy
(I will wait; I will wait for You)
And when I fear the unknown You give me peace
(I will wait; I will wait for You)
And when I call, You always answer me
(I will wait)
We wait for You like watchmen wait for morning
We wait for You like creation waits for spring
We wait for You knowing sometimes without warning
You reveal Your plan in ways that maybe we don't understand
Aaron Shust (Whispered and Shouted)

God, the one and only—
I'll wait as long as he says.
Everything I hope for comes from him,
so why not?
He's solid rock under my feet,
breathing room for my soul,
An impregnable castle:
I'm set for life. Psalm 62:5-6 (The Message)

Friday, February 29, 2008

This Way and That

I hate windshield wipers. They make me dizzy. (Perhaps this explains my dislike of the automatic car washes!) I do all I can to avoid using my windshield wipers. I love the delay and mist features (I go through lots of windshield washer fluid in my car) and rely heavily on those to get me through rain and snow!

Now my new car poses an additional problem: rear windshield wipers. I can see the point - water does tend to accumulate on the rear window of my Escape more than on my Regal. But it makes me crazy to have two sets of wipers operating out of sync. I tried at first to synchronize them - I really did. Trust me, it's impossible. So I use the rear one intermittently and as infrequently as possible.

I guess those wipers describe the state of my heart right now, going this way and that. I'm just not in sync with blogging these days. I feel pulled in opposite directions, part of me enjoying the connection that comes with blogging. But part of me wants to be more intentional about writing than blogging can really accommodate. God's been working on my heart about some things just are not bloggable (not yet anyways) and when I sit down to write a post, it sounds like I'm underwater or in a tunnel - all I hear are my own words and they're anything but clear.

So when all else fails, take a break, right? Seems about this time every year, I find some time away provides some clarity and direction. I still enjoy the community blogging affords though, so I'll be around, reading and commenting.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Face Time

Earlier this week, I had to travel with a few coworkers to visit a major account. The reason: they (the customer) needed face time. Honestly, I'm pretty sure that's about all they got from me - smiles and nods and the usual meet-and-greet handshakes, as I sat and mostly listened to my colleagues explain our course of action. They got face time, almost five hours. But you know, they need much more from us than face time. What they really want is assurance and confidence that we will be able to meet their needs on a consistent, proactive basis. They want action and communication. In short, and in their words, they need a partner.

I think I used to give God face time. Sunday mornings were his for sure. Possibly a few hours during the week. And morning devotions, as often as I could squeeze them in. In college, we had to fill out an activity report on such requirements. Perhaps more than build discipline in my life, it served to make such things mere duty.

Yes, there's something to be said for quiet moments spent listening to his voice, reading his word. There's a time and place to gather with others to worship. But God desires so much more than that, and slowly I am coming to realize you don't just give God face time. Even though we may tend to relegate him to corners of our lives, he remains present and involved, throughout each moment of the day. There's never a moment where we are out of his sight! How comforting is that!

And as incredible as it may seem, he invites us to partner with him to bring about his purpose in the world, as our current series at church in Ephesians is making quite clear. More than face time, God wants our faces turned toward him always, aware of his presence and work in and through our lives.