Sunday, February 28, 2010

Oi-Vay

Remember those frequent speed limit changes about which I previously complained?  So...yeah.  Apparently I missed one of them on the way home.  That $200 which I so frugally saved by cleaning the rental house myself, is now lining the pockets of the Alabama State Highway Patrol. 

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Curiosities

As I sat outside today in a tank top and shorts, basking in the sunny "warmth," two women walked by in...I kid you not...long wool coats!  Apparently 50 degrees constitutes winter in Florida?
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I saw this road sign in Mississippi:


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And cracked up at this billboard in Alabama:

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I don't remember ever in my life passing near a truck full of manure, but I had the privilege of following one for about 4 miles on a 2-lane road.  Avoid this experience at all costs.  Seriously.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  Description-defying misery. 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wow


From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, the Lord's name is to be exalted.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Under The Knife

Today's troubled youth sometimes engage in a widely-publicized and frightening trend known as "cutting."  Psychologists offer all manner of explanations and solutions...including the usual eagerness to build self-esteem, thus reducing these kids' desire to harm themselves.  Unfortunately, Christians don't offer much more help.  We either retreat from the issue out of fear, or we front a "Christianized" version of pop psychology, mimicking their call for self-esteem...rooted, of course, in Christ's love. 

I agree with the general concensus that this behavior is a response to self-loathing which is caused by a sometimes over-inflated sense of guilt, and it reflects a desire to rid oneself of the "filth" - whether it's emotional pain or destructive patterns of behavior or a response to wrongs committed against them - whatever the source, we should be willing to acknowledge their feelings as real, rather than dismiss them as merely attention-seeking.

But...we dare not stop with sympathizing with their pain, and we must not be naive enough to believe that "writing 'love' on her arms" will provide a sufficient cure.

The Scriptures teach us that, as creatures, each of us carries the Truth of God within us.  It is written on our hearts and it is clearly manifest in His works of creation.  When we suppress that Truth, it burns within us and we seeka release from it...often by giving ourselves over to some manner of impurity which leaves us even more agitated and empty.

I suggest that as young people are led to recognize this Truth of God and are taught to submit themselves to His knife, they would find the release that escapes them under their own.  God's knife - His sword, if you will...the Word of God - cuts us, wounds us, and painfully reveals us as the disobedient, unrighteous rebels we are.  So much for self-esteem, huh?!

BUT...that same Sword, that same Word - especially as expressed in the Living Word who underwent the knife of God to its fullest extent - also provides a healing balm which calms and stills the soul.  That same Word which exposes our filth, undertakes to cleanse us and set us free from our guilt.

Using our own knives to try and release that guilt, will only multiply and intensify it, leaving behind visible scars.  Submitting instead to His knife, we will be transformed and healed.

I don't know...just a thought.  Too simplistic?   

Monday, February 22, 2010

I HAD a Dream

I've been camping out near a naval base in northern Florida for the last couple of weeks and the daily flyovers have reminded me of  a dream I relinquished long ago.

From my mid-teen years until well after college, I had a dream of becoming a fighter pilot.  Really.  I'm not sure exactly what initially sparked and held my interest, but I have a long-standing love affair with speed and adventure, an attraction to risk and a desire to surprise people by doing what is not expected of a girl.

Don't get me wrong.  I had no desire to shed my femininity (though I've always had a bit of the tree-climbing tomboy in me), I wanted people to be shocked that I was a daring fighter pilot because of my femininity.  Those of you who know me...feel free to laugh at that.

I wasn't fully free of this dream until my first child was born.  I admit, even now, when I hear that roar overhead, the adrenaline starts pumping.  The difference is, I no longer feel the urge to DO something about it...just smile and enjoy the rush...vicariously. 

LOL

This was posted all over the neighborhood where I stayed. 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Aged to Perfection...Almost

I admit it.  I sometimes envy the elderly.  I realize they have passed their "prime" - that their bodies are waning in strength and beauty - but that reality is secondary to the sense of peace and rest that often emanates from them.  I used to attribute it to fatigue, but I begin to believe it's more profound than that.

These Imagers of God have successfully negotiated the tempestuous waters of youth and have trod that treacherous path we call "Middle Age" and they have not only "escaped with their lives" they have often arrived at a place of contentment and trust which I find enviable. 

I also realize that for most it hasn't come without a cost and they likely arrived there by way of stumblings and falls and losses...the very means which have shaped them into who they are.

I only hope my life follows that trajectory...that I can respond along my path with the submission and meekness and trust that will lead to a tranquil old age.  As you might guess, my more natural bent would lead me to become the characteristic crotchety, cantankerous old woman.  So...if my final years are otherwise, you can find in it irrefutable evidence for the existence of God and grace!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Marlboro Man Cab


I sit here basking in one of those rare discoveries for me...a wine which I love from the first sip to the last.  But this one is even more rare...because it ISN'T!  It's readily available.

All too often I taste a wine I can't wait to have again, only to find it is no longer available or it's inordinately expensive.  This one, however, is neither.  For most of us, at $16 it's not going to be an everyday bottle, but it qualifies as a regular.  I'm speaking of Rodney Strong's recent vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Both the '06 and '07 vintages are quite good (the '06 is slightly better). 

It possesses those characteristics that I consistently, yet inexplicably, find desirable in a wine.  I am not a trained connoisseur, so my description is limited to my own layman's terms: it has an earthy, musty, smoky flavor reminscent of the barnyard...and which I have therefore dubbed "Marlboro Man."   That's the highest compliment I can assign to any wine.  Here is a readily-available, reasonably-priced, American-produced cab that brings it all together for me. 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

551

That's how many of my steps it takes from the door of the house I'm occupying this week to the beach. 

Yes.  I counted them.  Out of curiosity, not out of an obsession for counting...though I do have that.  I often find myself subconsciously counting things...like the # of panes in a window, or the stripes on a wall, or tiles on the floor or stairs to a landing.   I also find myself mentally tracing lines and shapes and patterns through bricks, wood planks, wallpaper designs, etc.  Are these normal behaviors?  Does every mind operate this way or is it just mine?

I wonder if it's the same kind of brain function that causes me to "see" words in my mind.  What I mean is...I don't naturally see the "thing" which the word represents.  I first see the word itself...the written "composed" word before an image of the thing presents itself.  Is it similar to my compulsion to diagram sentences in my head?

I think all these behaviors may be related to my need to find order and structure in all of life.  I need to see the way things fit together and understand the relation of "this" to "that."  It's the way my mind makes sense of things.

And yes.  That means that when I indulge myself in a bag of M&M's or Skittles I visually, if not literally, sort them by color, just as I do my socks in the drawer.  Yes...of course they all have to face the same direction.

OK!  Enough already.  I begin to think myself deranged!

But you'll excuse me...I have 551 steps to walk to enjoy today's sunset.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I encountered another living soul today...a rare occurence in this veritable ghost town.  Apparently the Florida beach, in the middle of February, holds little attraction for normal people.

On my daily walk through the neighborhood, I heard a woman talking excitedly and I happened upon her suddenly.  She was alone.  Her appearance belied her state of mind...long grey hair, a quirky hat and a brightly-colored eccentric combination of apparel.  Her hands were dramatically elucidating her words for her invisible audience.  She seemed unphased by the appearance of a real human being and her monologue continued unabated.

For those of you who have attended the Whitaker Music Festival at the Missouri Botanical Gardens and have seen the "dancing lady"...that was this woman!  Happily inhabiting her own universe in the middle of a gated resort community. 

I was simultaneously amused and saddened.  What has her life been like?  Is she aware of her eccentricity or is she oblivious to it?  Is she distressed over her madness or is she happy in it?

I don't know.  All I know is that I hope she isn't alone, and I hope she has her very own Randy Stone.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

An Unexpected Blessing

I passed an elderly gentleman on this morning's walk.  From what I've been told, the intensity of my countenance while walking would prevent most strangers from speaking to me for fear they might be cleft in twain (that's KJV speak for "hacksawed in two").  But that didn't stop this brave fellow.  We paused for a brief chat about the weather.

Upon learning I was from St. Louis, he proudly drew attention to his ballcap.  As my eyes moved upward, I feared I was going to see a Cubs hat which would have ruined the whole positive karma we had going.  Much to my relief it was a KC Chiefs logo.  I told him the only thing I knew about the Chiefs was their brief association with some punk QB...#19 was it?  Some guy named...Joe?

"Where do you go to church in St. Louis?" was his next question.  I stammered momentarily because it seemed random and I wondered, "How does he know?  Was my i-pod THAT loud?"  (I had been listening to a sermon.)  No...I realized.  To him, that was the most important question he could ask.  Elderly people are that way, you know?  They've got nothin' to prove and are less concerned about being admired, so they speak boldly.

I answered his question.  "Ah...Reformed Presbyterian?  I'm Southern Baptist.  BUT...the important thing is to be in personal relationship with God, right?"

"Through Jesus Christ," we chorused.  He smiled.

We exchanged words of blessing:  his Southern Baptist "Praise the Lord!" and my Reformed Presbyterian "The peace of Christ be with you" and went our separate ways, knowing and feeling the bond of a brother and sister, united in Christ.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sunrise...Sunset

I am certain the post title will call forth in many of you that annoying tune and it will haunt you for hours.  Sorry.  Sort of.

As the lone living soul on the beach watching tonight's rather visually unspectacular sunset, I was prompted to meditate on the faithfulness of God as manifest in the daily rising and setting of the sun.

As modern day Scientific-Enlightenment thinkers, we are prone to assign this daily phenomenon to "Nature" - as though she possessed some independent will and power to make things happen.

The Truth is, that our Father causes the sun to rise and set every day and in this "small" gesture, which we take for granted, He teaches us that He is trustworthy, predictable, orderly and faithful.  By this very act alone, we can find grounds to trust Him because He is faithful, not only in bestowing this daily ritual, but in all His works and ways.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Seasons of Refreshment

I awakened in a sea of blue.  The sun's beams and ocean breezes filled the room, pulling me suddenly and completely from my sleepy reverie.

It has been weeks since I've seen the sun for more than a few minutes, but today's sky is unashamedly naked, promising hours of light, warmth and...the essential Vitamin D!  (that was for YOU, Bobber)   Makes me realize how much the absence of a thing causes us to long for it all the more and magnifies our appreciation of it upon its return.

How much would we long for Spring if there were no Winter?  The more prolonged and severe the Winter, the more intensely we desire Spring with its increased light, warmth, and pledges of new life.  Would we be compelled to meditate on and revel in the glories of Spring if not for the contrast of Winter's darkness and death?

Like every created reality, the seasons teach us wisdom about our Creator, about ourselves, and about the circumstances of life.

We learn that our Creator is reliable and predictable.

We learn that we are inclined to grumble about Winter even though we KNOW, from years of experience, that Spring will inevitably come!

We learn that in the seasons of our lives, we will not be abandoned to eternal winter.  The promise of Spring teaches us to hope rather than despair in times of darkness, to remember that death is a necessary prerequisite to life, to wait patiently for the life that will follow death.

Think how much our joy would be diminished if we never experienced its converse.  The one informs and shapes the other.  Even though the seasons of life are not as rhythmic and predictable as the those of nature, we must not fail to draw and learn from the parallels. 

Death then resurrection.  Darkness then light.  Sorrow then joy.  Mourning then dancing.

So take heart!  In nature and in life...a season of refreshment is drawing near!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Observations From A Roadtrip


Alabama really IS beautiful, as her welcome signs boast.

She also boasts:

The greatest # of tailgaters per capita...HOLY COW those people are impatient!

The most frequent speed limit changes.  I passed through dozens of reductions and accelerations from 65-25 and 25-65...in 10 MPH increments.  Aaaaaaagh!!!!

Real men.  Dozens of them on their Harleys in 45 degree weather, and trust me...on a bike, that's COLD!!!

Reba McEntire's vocal twin.  She mans the cash register at a backwoods gas station in Jasper, AL.  When I averted my eyes from her face, which bore absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to Reba's, I could have sworn she was in the room.  Not just the southern accent, but the word and phrase formation...uncanny.

Yes.  All of my observations were about AL, but out of the 12 hours I spent on the road, it seems 11 of them were in the great state of Alabama!!


Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Christian's Response to Suffering

What does a fully human and Christian response to suffering look like?  It's a multi-faceted approach and includes internal realities with which we must struggle as well as external actions of faith which we must practice for our endurance and sanctification. 

As I tried to put this together, I realized why many people have written whole books on suffering...it wouldn't be hard to do.  It's a complex subject.  But I'm not complex, so here are my simplified (and cheesily alliterated) conclusions.

Receive It - C.S. Lewis once said, "There is nothing that can be done with suffering except to suffer it."  This, of course, is only one small statement in a larger context on suffering, but he's right.  Our first response as Christians is to "suffer it" which ultimately means to submit to it.  We receive it as from God's hand, regardless of its origin and we bow the knee, acknowledging His sovereign right to do with us as He pleases.  We are prevented from displaced anger and resentment as we affirm that he is both sovereign and good and that He has sent this our way.

Reflect On It - Submitting doesn't mean that it will go away, so it is to our benefit to contemplate the nature, origin and purpose of suffering in general (think Job), and of our own suffering in particular.  How and why did this come and to what purpose has God sent it?  What does He want from me and for me?  What do I need to learn about myself and about Him in this?   

We would be remiss at this point not to reflect on the sufferings of Christ, which we must never minimize as less than fully human and therefore not as "real" as ours.  His passion was very real and with that experience, He intercedes to the Father on our behalf, as a passionate advocate.  In what ways does my suffering relate to His and where does it fit in the larger scheme of Christ's present redemptive work in the world?

Release - Reflecting on and facing our suffering head-on can lead us to a place of overwhelming sorrow, loss, grief, guilt, or other unpleasant emotions in which we'd prefer not to participate!  This is where the Psalms become crucial for us.  I never realized the intensity and power of the Psalms of Lament until I was in the grip of great suffering. (i.e. 6, 13, 38, 55, 69, 130, etc.)   Suddenly, I could cry out in desperation with the Psalmist:  "Where are you?  How long will you abandon me?  Do not remember my sins!  Save me, for the waters have come up to my neck!  Deliver me from the enemies who pursue my soul to overtake it!  Every night I water my couch with my tears."  Cry out to the Lord!  Lay all those feelings and fears and doubts and heartaches before him.  He hears our cries.  We don't have to pretend with him.

Remember - Meditate on God's works of old.  Remember the ways in which He led His people, delivered them, heard and responded to their cries.  Even when they did not deserve His favor, He remained faithful.  He took their persecutions, their rebellions, their wanderings and He redeemed them, bringing beauty from ashes.  Remember and meditate on His works.  Your confidence in Him will be restored, giving you strength to endure the suffering.  Read the Historical Psalms (i.e. 78, 105-107, 136).

Remind - Remind yourself of God's promise not to forsake you and His assurances that He will deliver you...and believe those promises are for you.  Also, remind HIM of His promises.  It is common in the Scriptures for the prophets of Yahweh to remind Him of His promises and then He acts accordingly!   Read and meditate on the Psalms of Confidence.  (i.e. 18, 27, 46, 68, 91,121, etc.)

Reconnect - Often, in the face of severe suffering, we are tempted to withdraw from society to be alone.  We recognize that we're a social "downer" when we can't put on a happy face in public.  But remember...not only is it helpful for our brothers and sisters to know they aren't the only ones who have suffered, but we will often find encouragement and joy from surprising sources when we discipline ourselves to engage with others.  There is an amazing amount of strength gained by allowing others to bear our burdens.  We are priests for one another, sharing the load and carrying each other's cares and casting them before the Lord.  Humble yourself before God's people and allow them to carry you and your burdens.  Surround yourself with faithful Christian friends who will understand, encourage, challenge and even rebuke you in your time of trouble. 

An essential part of staying connected to the Body is participation in Lord's Day worship.  Do not underestimate the power of being united with the people of God and being served by God Himself in covenant renewal worship.  When your brother sings, "Bless thou the Lord, forget not all His mercies..." he is singing to you and building you up in your faith!  Be humble enough to receive his service to you, as well as God's own service to you in the Word and Sacraments.

Reach Out - When we are in a place of suffering, we need to feel useful and to rebuild a sense of purpose.  One of the best ways to do this, even in our own poverty of spirit, is to minister to others who are in need.  Make a meal for the family of a sick mother...send a card of encouragement to a lonely widower...reach out in love and cheer to a small child...etc.  And pray for others who are hurting.  In this way, we get outside ourselves and avoid sinking in the mire of self-absorption and self-pity.

Rejoice - Ugh.  Am I serious?  Yes I am.  When we feel we have the least reason to, we must discipline ourselves to give thanks!  And remember, the Bible never tells us to "BE" thankful, but to GIVE thanks.  No matter how low we are, we have been given gifts for which we must return thanks to God. Maybe it's another's joy or success (remember Helen Keller's wise words?)...maybe it's the ordinary blessing of the sunrise or a glass of ice-cold whole milk...maybe it's the luxury of listening to a finely-tuned instrument or tasting a finely-crafted wine...or maybe it's the blessing of The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the hope of the resurrection and the renewal of all things.  We CAN find something to rejoice in and give thanks for!

Rest - Our submission to suffering and the discipline of responding Christianly to it, should ultimately bring us to a place of rest.  That rest may only last an hour or two before we have to start over, actively engaging our hearts and minds to respond Christianly, but if we do, we will once again arrive at that place of rest.  Regardless of how elusive or temporary this rest may be, we should seek it and when we experience it, we will be led to anticipate the day when all our tears will be wiped away and we will be free from sin, temptation, sorrow, the cares of this fallen world, and will enter that Final Rest which comes about in our resurrection, renewal and life in a world fully united to Christ.  This is our best and highest HOPE which is neither elusive nor burdensome!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mistakes About Suffering

There are a number of ways in which Christians tend to deal with suffering which are inadequate at best and erroneous or faithless at worst.  These responses are somewhat influenced by personality - our natural tendencies - but foundationally they spring from our system of beliefs.

The first two I'll address are about subverting the genuine pain and difficult emotions that accompany suffering.

We've all known, and maybe we've even been, that Pollyanna-minded Christian who believes the only proper response to life's most difficult situations is to smile and pretend that it's really not so bad afterall.  If we trust the Lord then everything's gonna be just fine and therefore we having nothing to be sad about!  Tell that to Shawn Hornbeck's parents.  Remember him?  He's the young man who was kidnapped at age 12 and held captive by a sexual predator until age 16.  There is simply no way to sugar-coat that tragedy or the long-term suffering that child and his family have endured. 

All too often, this rosy view of life is nothing more than public posturing anyway.  We think it's what others expect, we don't want our faith questioned, and we don't want to be judged as unspiritual.  In the face of real hardship, though, this approach is difficult to maintain outside the public eye.

We Stoics are motivated by some of the same factors as Pollyanna, namely the avoidance of intense pain, but instead of putting a happy face on it, we ignore it in an effort to rise above it.  We pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and move on by sheer strength of will.  We must never be perceived as weak or vulnerable.  Our pride won't allow it.  Again, this approach is fueled largely by other's perception of us...or our perception of ourselves.  We dare not demonstrate a lack of faith, so we shut ourselves off to the problems of suffering.

These next two responses tend to be more intellectual or rational in nature.

We tell ourselves - or others...this one is much easier to apply to someone else's suffering than our own - that God has sent this to "teach us something."  We turn the suffering into nothing more than an object lesson and if we (or they) can only learn our lesson, the suffering will subside.

A fourth tendency, often in reaction against the previous one, is to assign all suffering to The Fall and original sin and thereby diminish or remove providential involvement.   This isn't sent by God to teach me something, it is simply the way things are in a broken world.  In this way, we avoid some of the hard questions that arise about God's goodness and the seeming removal of His favor.  But we are also left with a feeling of senselessness and hopelessness.  Since I can find no Divine purpose in it, this cannot produce anything good for me or for others and I must simply wait for the end of history when it will be set right.

In this next option, we neither avoid the hard questions nor stifle the painful emotions.  Instead we immerse ourselves in the questions and emotions.  This response usually results in any number of strong reactions.  As we wallow in the suffering, we often end up full of anger, resentment, pride, doubt, or self-pity, which all lead to despair, a sinful questioning of God, and sometimes ultimate rebellion.

So.  If I believe all of these are wrong responses, do I believe there is actually a right way to respond to suffering?  I do.  

Let me first point out that each of the responses I've described above contain nuggets of truth from which we can extract wisdom, but alone, each proves inadequate and doesn't represent a fully human and Christian response.  So what does?

Next time...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Types of Suffering

In The Burden of Hope, I pointed out that suffering can sometimes seem more intense for a Christian because, along with all its blessings, The Gospel also brings to him this little thing we call hope.  With the coming of hope comes the "mockery of hope which does disappoint." (Bledsoe essay).

Suffering is one of several circumstances which makes the realization of hope so elusive, and it comes to us in all sorts of packages, some which are more easily understood and endured than others.

Persecution is one form of suffering that I have never experienced, which is probably why I'm able to envision it as easier to submit to...because it carries with it an obvious sense of purpose, right?  The Kingdom of God is advanced and The Gospel goes forward in strength through persecution.  Don't misunderstand.  I'm not suggesting that this type of suffering isn't painful and even devastating, only that it seems like it would be easier to accept since its ultimate purpose is clearly noble.

Acts of God which bring about large-scale tragedies and over which neither I nor anyone else had any control - such as floods, earthquakes, fires, etc. -  are also more readily submitted to because it is obvious that "God did this."  The Scriptures make very clear, and it's not just a poetic way of speaking, that these events come directly from God's hand and are intended as judgements which offer the opportunity for repentance and will either destroy or refine us, depending on whether we submit or rebel.  Once again, I have only observed this kind of suffering from a distance without experiencing it first hand yet.

I have both witnessed and experienced personal tragedies that were clearly from God's providential hand, but were less broad in scope and more personal than the kinds mentioned above...the loss of 3 children in the womb...the illness and death of my brother...the birth of an aunt with Down's, a nephew with cerebral palsy and a niece with 13q-.  I've watched a mother in our church nurture 4 boys, 3 of whom have autism...a young couple lose their first child after 2 promising days of life...you get the idea.  These are sorrows which the recipients were dealt apart from any precipitating action on their part.  

Both the large-scale and the personal tragedies can cause deep and prolonged suffering - either external or internal - and they challenge our faith in the Lord by raising questions about the nature of God and His involvement in a broken world.  We are forced to wrestle with the big questions of life and sometimes the answers we come up with are less-than-satisfactory, adding to our burden. 

Two other types of suffering, which I personally have found hardest to endure, are those which come as a result of other's sins against me or my sins against others:  the rape and murder of a young Christian girl...the abuse of a child by a parent...a husband who abandons his wife...divorce...adultery....betrayal of friendship...a mother's death by a drunken driver.  Sometimes the circumstances are less dramatic than these examples and suffering can also result from "lesser" sins such as gossip, thoughtlessness, or pride.  In addition to the normal sorrows and testing of our faith that accompany hardship, this kind of sin-induced, relational suffering involves issues of guilt, repentance, forgiveness, healing and restoration.  The weight of this suffering is increased because it was imposed on us unjustly (as a result of someone else's sin), or because we feel how much we deserve it (as  a result of our own sin).  Whereas we normally confront God Himself with our suffering and "call him to account," here we look to our own or other's actions to understand and alleviate the burden, often with a disappointing result.  This is where that "Burden of Hope" becomes poignantly significant for the Christian.  Afterall, we, above all others, have reason to expect relational failures and sufferings to be healed.  Is that not the very heart of The Gospel? 

I know I promised to talk about the Christian's response to suffering, but in thinking that through, I was compelled to acknowledge how broadly the nature and source of suffering varies and the way that shapes our responses.  Ultimately, I believe that there are proper biblical ways to respond to suffering, regardless of its nature or origin, and I will talk about those...eventually.  Just not today.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Leisurely Woman's Daybook

Outside my window...The snow continues to fall, but with paltry accumulations!   I'd love to experience, just once,  the thigh-high blankets of silence we used to get in Minnesota.  Maybe I wouldn't find it as magical at age 44 as I did as an 11-year-old, but I'd be willing to give it a try. 

Around the house...if we have another snow day, I anticipate several games of Yahtzee (after 12pm when the boys awaken), sloppy floors and a pot or two of hot chocolate. 

From the kitchen...Shaf makes a killer Tri-tip.  Have I mentioned that before?  He marinates it for 24-48 hours in Italian dressing, then grills it (even in the snow) to a medium-rare perfection.  Paired with a side of broccoli sauted in bacon grease, it makes the perfect low-carb dinner!

A favorite thing...Pilot Precise V5 roller pens.  They offer the quickest and smoothest writing tip for me...love 'em!

I am thinking...that the time I have to read and write is a great luxury indeed.

I am wearing...my favorite jeans.  Loose, relaxed and comfy.

I am hearing..."Grumbling About Dinner Guests" - a sermon by Jeff Meyers about the parables in Luke 15.

I am reading...Peter Leithart's The Kingdom & The Power:  Rediscovering the Centrality of The Church.  This book was my first exposure to Leithart more than a decade ago and as I re-read it, I realize how thoroughly my biblical interpretation has been influenced by him.

I am creating...ugh.  Not again.

I am thankful for...the coming addition of 5 babies to the PRPC congregation:  a 5th, a 4th, a 3rd, a 2nd and a 1st!!  Children are a blessing and heritage from the Lord!  Besides that...as Shakespeare's Benedick would say, "The world must be peopled!"

Plans for my week...Prepare for Friday night's "Supper Club" here  and my 2 week solo departure.  I am heading to a convent for a couple weeks of intense spiritual formation.  OK...not exactly.  But I will be gone for 2 weeks.  And without technology. 

A photo/video I am sharing...The Mother-In-Law visit went well...and she INSISTED on taking me shopping!  I made us both happy by finding this bargain outfit for $23!! Blouse:  $7...Jeans: $5...Belt: $11. 

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dumb & Dumber

In case you hadn't figured it out by now, I'll let you in on a little secret: I tend to be a tad sarcastic and cynical.  Hey...what can I say?  It's a gift. 

Certain events and circumstances are prone to bring out the worst of my sarcasm - especially TV.  Commercials, news anchors, commentators, you name it, I'm probably cynical about it.  "REALITY" shows?  Don't EVEN get me started!  

Anyway...Is it just me, or do the commentators for really big sporting events get dumber every year?  (Not to mention slightly less capable of forming complete words in English?)  I mean, really.  How smart do you have to be to make such prescient remarks as:

"These guys really need to put the ball in the end zone!"

OR

"You can't make those kind of turnovers and expect to win the game."

And then they affirm each other. 

I love that they always ask each other what the teams have to do to win...as if somehow the "way to win" has changed since the last game.  The profundity and variety of their answers are nothing short of astonishing and are usually some roundabout way of saying:

"Well, Joe, they need to score more points."

"You're right, Tim, and they need to find a way to stop the other team from scoring points."

AHHH!  So THAT'S the big secret to winning a football game?   Offense and defense?  These guys are brilliant.  Or...maybe they just like to hear themselves talk.  I guess I can't help but compare their commentating to that of the good-ol' boys of baseball.  Now, THOSE GUYS can spin a yarn and describe a game in colorful terms.  ("That ball bounced through the outfield like a jalopy down an old dirt road!"  Doesn't get much better than that, you know?!)  Unfortunately, I think these guys are a dying breed as well, being replaced by the more professional-sounding, highly-trained sort whose voices are indistinguishable and who posit the same "learned" phrases, but at least a few of them still exist and are a sheer delight to listen to.

I did hear ONE original comment during tonight's Super Bowl.  When the Colts' kicker missed his field goal and then pointed both index fingers toward heaven, one of the guys remarked:  "He's a very spiritual guy...make or miss."  Still not brilliant, but original and telling nonetheless.  All I can say is:

Cardinals report to Spring Training in 9 days.  :-)  Bring it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Burden of Hope

"It is one thing to be unhappy, but it is a greatly added burden to be unhappy about being unhappy."  So says Rich Bledsoe in his thought-provoking essay:  Ministering to Suffering in The Third World and In The First.

In his and other's experiences, the pagan (unChristianized) conscience has a diminished, even somewhat Stoic, response to suffering because it views it as imposed from outside oneself...either by cosmic chaos, the gods, fate or nature.  There is a certain resignation to the inevitability of suffering and tragedy which allows the pagan mind to accept it more readily and with less emotional trauma than the Christian conscience. 

I suggest that this is due, in part, to the sense of responsibility, sin and guilt which accompanies the advent of The Gospel.  The Christian conscience is keenly aware of the brokenness of the world and its inhabitants..."bent hnau" all. (If the term "bent hnau" is unfamiliar to you, I highly recommend you read C.S. Lewis's space trilogy!)  We often perceive suffering, and rightly so, as a result of our own or other's sins and thus the personal nature of it elicits very personal responses. 

"The coming of Christ transformed the experience of suffering."  It is no longer merely an unpleasant, imposition on man from an outside source, but is "experienced primarily as inner sufferings."  I can no longer interpret my suffering as part of an impersonal cosmic whole, but instead "I experience the agony of being in disharmony with the world...the Creator God" and my fellow man.  This personal, inner agony does not exist in the same way for the unbelieving mind.

In addition to adding responsibilities and an increased awareness of our fallenness, this thing we call The Good News, also conditions the imagination which has been regenerated (or Christianized by Western Civilization) to expect something more.  The same Gospel which provides previously unattainable freedom and blessings, also instills in the heart the burden of hope. 

Wait a minute.  Doesn't the very nature of hope exclude the possibility of it being burdensome?  Not exactly.  Here's why.  The very nature of hope implies a raising of expectations which, when frustrated or elusive, can lead to a more intense disappointment or disillusionment than is possible where hope does not exist.  As Bledsoe says, "...everyone is unhappy, everyone has cyclical and even eternal miseries that have plagued humanity for time everlasting, but now I am plagued with the hope that things can be different."

The Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to anticipate joy, beauty, blessing, restoration, forgiveness, healing...in short, a making new of all things!  Therefore, those of us who embrace the Truth found in Christ, often feel the sting of tragedy, suffering and unhappiness more profoundly because it cuts against the grain of our hopeful expectations!   Even though we know - at least theoretically - that suffering and death are the path to life, we feel the incongruity of it.

Am I suggesting then that we are worse off because of our acquaintance with or belief in The Gospel?  Of course not!  Or as Paul would say, "God forbid!"  The quickening of hope and the ensuing disappointments require a response on our part.  All too often we Christians respond in ways that are less than fully Christian.  

In my next post, I'll address some of our common responses and temptations, and suggest what I believe a truly biblical Christian response looks like.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wordsmith Wednesday

Last week's "contest" went over well, so I thought I'd give it another go but with a different twist:  analogies.  Although I assume most of you know how these work, I'll provide a basic explanation.

An analogy is a symbolic statement in which two word pairs share the same relationship.  For example:

Captain : boat :: pilot : airplane

The colon (:) stands for the words "is to" and the double colon (::) stands for the word "as."  (Captain is to boat as pilot is to airplane)

The "relationship sentence" (which explains the direct connection between the pairs of words) would be:     A captain is the person who controls a boat just as a pilot is the person who controls an airplane.  Each pair of words fits into the same simple sentence that directly explains the relationship between the words.

I'll talk another day about the different Types of Analogies, but let's see how you all do with these.  They're pretty simple.

And the winner is:  Paul Schmidt!  You were first, Paul, (and 2nd and 3rd...)but I have to say, both girls outshone you on the accuracy of their sentences!  OK...yours were not INACCURATE, but they were less complex and specific.  Congratulations to all three and thanks for humoring me by playing along!  Come again next week!   I'll catch you on Sunday, Paul, to give you your "reward." 

1.  tired : exhausted :: ________ : furious
a) calm
b) unhappy
c) angry
d) amused

2.  summon : dismiss ::  _____ : ______
a) call : reply
b) intend : try
c) intervene : meddle
d) gather : disperse

3.  concur : disagree :: comprehend : __
a) forget
b) learn
c) misunderstand
d) envision

4.  engorge : fill :: _____ : _______
a)  assert : deny
b) deploy : regain
c) encourage : block
d) initiate : begin

5.  architect : blueprint :: _____ : ______
a) navigator : map
b) watchdog : leash
c) gardener : fertilizer
d) detective : culprit

6.  welder : heat :: _____ : _____
a) bricklayer : wall
b) carver : statue
c) teacher : chalk
d) tailor : thread

7.  drowsy : alert :: _______ : inept
a) prepared
b) competent
c) uncomfortable
d) finished

8. tiger : feline :: _______ : _________
a) cow : bovine
b) ant : marsupial
c) owl : lupine
d) bear : canine

9.  circumference : circle :: ___ : square
a) area
b) perimeter
c) radius
d) boundary

10.  praise : deride :: ________ : avoid
a) affect
b) insist
c) confront
d) assume

Play here or on FB...answers will be posted by day's end.  The first one to get all answers correct AND give me sensible and accurate relationship sentences for each, will earn himself a $10 Starbucks gift card.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

But God...

During a conversation with my 87-year-old Grandma in November, she told me that she started reading her Bible through, front-to-back, once a year...25 years ago.  I knew that this was more than "small talk" coming from her, so I took it as the challenge I think she meant it to be.  My lone New Year's Resolution was to follow her example.

As I read again the familiar story of Abraham and Sarah, I was struck this time by Hagar's story.  In an act of faithlessness, Abram took her to wife, then cast her out into the wilderness.  

Hagar was abandoned.  Alone.  Unloved.  Unprotected. Unprovided for.  Destitute.  Without recourse or vindication.  But as she languished in the wilderness, fearing for her life and the life of her son, she cried out to Yahweh.  And the God who hears...the God who sees (El-Roi)...listened and saw Hagar and took pity on her.  Just as she was about to perish, Yahweh opened her eyes and showed her a well in the wilderness.  The God who provides (Jehovah-Jireh), gave her refreshment and life.  And He blessed her.  

This is the same God of whom Jonah said:

I cried out to the Yahweh in my distress, and he answered me. I called to you from the land of the dead, Yahweh, and you heard me!  (Jonah 2:2)

This is the same God of whom David said:

In my distress I called unto Yahweh; from His temple He heard my voice and my cry to Him reached His ears.  (Psalm 18:6)

This is the same God who, in Christ, saw and heard and rescued the poor, the needy, the blind, the lame, the outcast...again and again and again.

This is the same God who still sees.  Who still hears.  And who still has compassion on those who cry out to Him for deliverance.  May He grant us the faith to rest in these truths!

Monday, February 1, 2010

No Leisure This Week

The mother-in-law is on her way from California, even as we speak.  Since I had forgotten she was coming...there will be no leisure for ME!   I have linens to launder, floors to vacuum, baseboards to scrub, tubs to scour, meal-planning to do, groceries to purchase and food to prepare! 

Actually, for the first time in my life, I have decided that a moderately clean house (and that description could be a bit generous!) is sufficient.  I no longer feel the need to prove something or receive praise and approval for my housekeeping skills.   This could be a result of maturation (doubtful) or complacency (likely), but either way, I will avoid a great deal of stress.  Nor will I spend the week preparing the perfect meal 3 times a day. 

I must say, my MIL has never imposed high expectations on me...they originated solely from my own psychotic perfectionism, which has been entirely dismantled in the last year. 

But I do have a smidge of pride left, so I do need to do some basic housekeeping!  Toodles...