Tuesday, July 26, 2011

When you need a hand...

    This post is probably weird but what else is new?
    I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be married and have children.  Yep... I was one of those kids who  had tons of dolls scattered around my room and every one had a name, all my "babies" were equally important to me.  (At night, it was really tough because I didn't want any of them to have to sleep by themselves so my twin-size bed got a bit crowded...:)
   Long after the doll stage, when I was 17, I read something in the Bible Study Fellowship notes on Genesis that caught my attention. The lesson was about finding a wife for Isaac and the main point was that the servant who had to find this girl  didn't just go busting ahead in his own wisdom and strength but instead prayed first.
   Bottom line:  Eleazar prayed, asked for a specific sign,  and immediately Rebekkah showed up - the rest being (literally) history.
   In this particular BSF lesson, Miss Johnson asked if we had ever knelt and petitioned God in faith for something.  I really hadn't.  So I knelt where I was and asked God if He would someday let me have the gift of marriage.
   In BSF, we had learned to watch for several things when seeking God's guidance:  Scriptural confirmation, a deep, God-given sense of peace, and also for  circumstances to line up.  As I made my request, I realized that it might be a while before Mr. Right came along so  I asked God  to confirm His will ahead of time.  Basically, I asked Him to give me a deep peace if it was His plan for me to be married some day. No change in my current emotional status would mean that it wasn't. Before I even finished my request, I was totally flooded with peace - something that I knew was from Him and not from me.
   Having gotten the green light, so to speak, I added my plan - which was to be married within a few years - certainly by the time I finished college:) However  the years started flying by and as they did, many of my friends married while I - I became an expert at serving wedding cake and punch :(  Frankly, it wasn't easy. Each time another friend married, I struggled with feelings of loneliness, of having missed life somehow, and also with envy. And I doubted whether I had heard God correctly back when I was 17.
   As I approached thirty, yet another close friend was getting married and I knew it would be a challenge for me emotionally. So as soon as I knew she was engaged,  I started asking God to help me -  to keep my attitude joyful for my friend's sake and to protect me from feelings of depression.  And He did it! Even during the ceremony itself, I was fine.
  However, driving  back home afterwards, alone in the dark, I began to struggle.  As I was going down University Avenue the words to the song, "He's the Hand on My Shoulder" caught my attention. I listened to the lyrics and then simply asked God if He would be  the hand on my shoulder - telling Him that I needed  a tangible sense of His nearness.  And that's when it happened - I felt a slight, momentary pressure on my shoulder and a deep comfort to go with it. The sense of comfort was quickly followed by incredulity.   I had asked -  but I hadn't really expected!  I was so shocked that I even looked over my shoulder in case someone was in the back seat!  Yet even as I looked I knew that if it had been a person, I would have been scared (to put it mildly!!), not uplifted.
    Simply put, He gave  what I asked for and more..
    And, needless to say,  that song has been special to me ever since.
    Now, as Phil and I approach our 25th anniversary in Nov. (God keeps His promises!!!!), we can testify that  His hand has never left us even through the dark days and difficult times of life -He is the hand on our shoulder.. Not literally unless.... you really need it.  Then, He really can do it!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Burundi, cheeseburgers, and ... chumps...:)


         Okay.  My feet are definitely made of clay and my mouth is usually better closed as opposed to open.  I've been reading a little about a traumatized African country, one that used to be joined with Rwanda and like Rwanda, has also experienced tribal genocide.  The name of the place is Burundi and it's history is no less shocking than Rwanda's or the Sudan's.
         I read a little bit this morning about their extreme poverty, tension and violence  back in the 1990's and then I put the book down in order to  go swimming. (Think  Western dichotomy here..). While I'm exercising in the water, a personal grievance enters my mind and before long, my brain is stewing over  this past event, Burundi's problems having taken  a back seat to mine...  After the water aerobics stuff, I head to Sonic and choose at least two items that are relatively low calorie. (The third item we won't discuss.:.)
        After repeating my order three times distinctly  enough and loudly  enough  to have been heard in Burundi  and after also mentioning twice that I had a 2.00 off coupon, the girl gave me my total. I quickly realized it was not discounted. So I called back, talked to someone else and they recalculated my total to include the coupon.
       When the girl came out, she announced that I had a cheese burger.  I told her that I hadn't ordered a cheeseburger.  She looked pretty intelligent but for some reason, she just kept standing there saying flatly, "So.. you don't want this..." I kept telling her that I didn't and she just kept stonewalling.
        I've had problems at this Sonic before but everyone has always been nice about it, quick to try to fix it, etc.  So it hasn't bothered me.
       This time, however, I got ticked.  The only thing that helped me remain calm on the outside was something one of our pastors said a week ago Sunday:  if you've ever been hateful to a casual acquaintance or someone you just met out in public, don't go back and try to witness to them. Just don't even go there...
      And it would be just my luck to go off on the girl and then the next time I see her, it's at church... So I let the pastor's words run through my mind while I deliberately kept my voice firm but calm.  She wouldn't budge, however, and just kept asking me in a flat voice if I didn't want the burger. I'm guessing the manager would have made her pay for the cheese burger had she taken it back.  So again, thinking about the pastor's words and how young she was, I told her I'd take the cheese burger.  (And I bit my tongue to keep from adding colorful speculation on how long it would be before I ever went back to that particular Sonic...)
    And then I even gave her a tip, for which I got a smirk, a nonchalant "Okay", and a shrug.
    And now I'm sitting here wondering how I could even do that?  Like I'm leap-frogging from horrific suffering (starvation, etc) in Burundi to getting bent out of shape over poor service at Sonic and feeling self-righteously aggrieved because, um.. I had to eat a cheeseburger??? And the girl didn't like, fall all over my feet when I went ahead and tipped her in spite of her attitude??? Like I should have at least been kowtowed to  for that or something...!!
    I'd like to say that I'm having a bad day, don't feel good, etc. But I feel fine and my day started off well.
    Instead, I'd have to agree with Corrie ten Boom.  In Tramp for the Lord she wrote  Corrie ten Boom is lazy, selfish, and filled with ego.  But Jesus Christ in Corrie ten Boom is just the opposite of all these things.  (P. 108)
    Basically  when I mess up by being petty (or am keeping it okay on the outside while seething over something petty  on the inside), I'd like to think that's not the real me, that deep down inside I really am the image that I try to project - someone who has their priorities straight, who puts others first, etc. But the truth is that when you scratch the surface, Cathie Abernathy is also lazy, selfish, and filled with ego.
   The good news is that Jesus in me, when I let Him have the upper hand,  is just the opposite.
    And really, I think that's the good news for all of us.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Joy comes in the (early) morning..

     Something different.  Still not sure what caused it.
     I tried to go to sleep last night at a more normal hour -which right now would be midnight for me instead of say 1 or 2 a.m....=/  However, sleep would not come. In it's place, came something better.  As I lay there in the dark, I felt peace and joy - almost tangible joy - along with  praise welling up inside me.  I found myself praising God in what I always think of as "Nigerian Style" because that's how my Nigerian "daughter" always prayed - just different from Arkie home-grown prayers - trust me on this one.
     She would often start off thanking God for things like having gas in the car and food on the table with real, heartfelt thankfulness. She might go on to add  thanks for the fact that it was not our portion on this particular  day to wake up sick or in the hospital.  Then her prayers would increase in intensity as she would plead the blood of Christ over her friends and family who were in distress.  There was definitely none of the God is good, God is great... now I lay me down to sleep stuff in her prayers.  All of our friends loved to hear her pray and often as we were ending chill time together, we would pester her to pray out loud... in Nigerian! :) It was so strange but even when she prayed fervently in her own language - which was incomprehensible to us - we felt His presence so much more than we did when our own prayers wafted towards the ceiling in English.
      Last night, my prayers weren't as fervent as Yetty's but they were from the heart - actually, if I am allowed to say it - from outside my heart.  My petitions weren't whiny, fearful, or composed of incessant begging - the way a child nags at a parent until they get their way.  Please, Abba, please... would You... 
     I was so surprised by the peace and joy, confidence even that seemed to be welling up within me that I tried to figure out why it was happening.  This is what I came up with:
     1.  Someone was praying for me and that's how God answered them - by wrapping me in His love, giving me a respite from my normal fearful self. So if you prayed for me yesterday or last night - thank-you!  God definitely heard!
     2.  God used the thoughts planted by the Sullivan Four blog to re-direct my thoughts, as He has done in the past.  The blog talked about how God can transform worriers and how He actually did that for their daughter, Hannah.   I needed to hear that - went back and read it twice before going to sleep.
     3.  God had been working throughout the day to show me that He really is Sovereign, that He does all things well.  (All I can compare yesterday to is like spending hours upon hours toiling uphill, staring at the ground and at the little bit of trail that you can see snaking between the thorns and the brush and then.. suddenly.. you reach the top and you can look back and actually see that there was rhyme and reason to the path that you've been following).
    4.   At some point yesterday/last night, I took a small step towards reaching out in a particular way, something that fear has kept me from doing for a long time.  It occurred to me last night, as I lay there quietly rejoicing in His presence, that fear must cancel out  joy.
    5.  I have felt for the past few days that it wasn't the thing to go right into yet another thriller/adventure/espionage novel.  I don't think God has anything against them at all.  I just felt that He wanted me to stow the adrenalin-laced stuff briefly b/c He wanted my attention.  Thursday night, I went ahead and started a new novel anyway, sort of tipping my hat to God in the process, reading until my eyes were tired, and then falling into a fitful sleep. Last night I was going to pick up where I left off in the novel  but reluctantly decided not to. It's hard for me to believe that just laying aside a fun novel for one evening could lead to such a palpable sense of His nearness but maybe it could. I really don't know.
    Whatever the reason, I'm grateful.  As I lay there last night, feeling so close to Him, I thought: this must be what Heaven is like.  Only in Heaven you know it will never end -you'll always feel His nearness, His peace, His confidence, His joy and there'll never be that  nagging certainty that sooner or later the experience will  fade.
     Is He less real this morning because my mind is running on it's normal track?
     Definitely not.
     Would I like to experience His nearness like that more often?
    What do you think? :)
 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

An impeccable outlook...

     I took a neighbor's child to Willow Springs this week. He's entering his last year of elementary school and to my surprise, was a delight to hang out with.
    When we got to the Water Park, he just looked at the water and quietly asked me  how deep it was.  Then he chose a picnic table, deposited his stuff and walked right into the pool, stopping only fractionally when the cool water first hit his feet and legs.  Once he was fully in the water  he cautiously headed out towards the middle, still matter-of-factly using me as a sounding board:  how deep is it here?   How deep is it going to be over there?  Now how deep do you think it is?   More than once, he solemnly informed me that he didn't want to drown but as long as he could stand on his tip-toes and bounce, he'd be okay.
   In between depth soundings, he chatted about his dog whom he obviously loves.  Later, after the dog topic wore out, I asked him if he had any brothers or sisters.  He  stared at me and then said  flatly, "Yes."  Nothing else.  Just "Yes."   So I hazarded a guess:  you like your dog better than your siblings?  
   He looked startled at my perspicuity and then threw back his head, laughing with sheer joy.  Somewhere in all the laughter was a resounding "Yes!":)
   It wasn't until we'd been in the pool for a while that he said, "When I saw this place, I thought: this is the biggest pool I'd ever seen!!  I was scared!!"    This was news to me: I knew he was concerned about the depth of the water obviously but I didn't realize this was the biggest body of water he'd ever been in .
   I told him that he hadn't shown fear and he quietly thanked me but added, "This pool is huge! I really was scared but I went in anyhow.  But still... I've never been in anything like this before!"
   At one point, I headed for the "shore" while he stayed in the water, near the slide.  By this time, he said he'd been outside so long the sun was turning his feet white...! I told him that was curious: the same sun was turning my nose red!
   Later, while he voluntarily guarded our things, I left the park to get a burger order for us but the girl who waited on me was in-training and although we went over the order three times, things still got a little garbled.  I finally took what I hoped were two cheese burgers back to the water park and set the sack on the picnic table. My new friend dug into the first cheese burger and when I told him it was supposed to have ketchup on it, he quit eating long enough to examine the inside of the bun. "Nope!  It doesn't have any. But that's okay!  At least she got two burgers in the sack!!!"   When we realized there were no fries,  I told him it was just her first day on the job.To my surprise, he  looked sympathetic and said, "Oh, wow.  Then she did good!"
   After lunch, we both got back in the water and separated at the water slide.
   As I made my way across the  pool, trying to exercise my joints,  I saw an older swimmer like myself, a man  who looked a little rough around the edges,  and I realized he was  just glaring at me.  I've gone to this park for years and never had a cross word from anyone so I  decided to ignore Mr. Grumpy, which I did.  Everybody has their bad days and everybody else I saw was very friendly.  Maybe he was in the water for the same reason I was: arthritis can definitely wipe the smile off your face...
  Later, while I was sitting at the picnic table reading, I again saw this man several  tables away, leaning over and frowning in my direction.  There was no one else in between us - the other tables were empty.  I thought:  what is this man's problem?
   And then I knew. Or thought I knew.
   One over-weight, grandmotherly  white woman and one young, super-bright, polite, funny African American boy.
   I immediately assumed the guy was a bigot and then spent the next few minutes thinking of what I'd like to say to him:  sorry, the child and I don't hang out with bigots... or you needn't glare in my direction, the opinion of racist red-necks has never been high on my list of things to worry about...
   By the time I got through formulating my "snappy" responses, he was gone and  the child was still happily wandering  all over the pool, having conquered his fear admirably.  From the beginning of our time together until the end, the boy was never anything but helpful, polite, funny, and appreciative.
   Hopefully the disgruntled guy a few tables down was just having a bad day...
   If not, then maybe ... if  we ever run across him again - which is not likely - and if he ever changes his manners and minds his "p's and q's"..  then maybe -  just maybe -  we'll let him associate with us and in time - who knows?  The boy's impeccable outlook on life might eventually rub off on the old guy, making him a better person in the process...

Heaven - From the Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible.

         This  statement by Max Lucado caught my eye recently and I've gone back to re-read it several times since then:
         "We are not happy here because we are not at home here.  We are not happy here because we are not supposed to be happy here.  We are 'like foreigners and strangers in this world..'  (I Peter 2:11) 
         "Take a fish and place him on the beach.  Watch his gills grasp and scales dry.  Is he happy?  No!  How do you make him happy?  Do you cover him with a mountain of cash?  Do you get a beach chair and sunglasses?   Do you bring him a Playfish magazine and martini?    Do you wardrobe him in double breasted fins and people-skinned shoes?"  p. 1645.
          I love  the imagery that brings to mind: a fish sitting on the beach, wearing shades and designer clothes  with an irritated expression, flipping through a magazine, tossing it aside, sipping on his drink, looking even more disgruntled,  and  setting that aside as well...
          Only, that isn't the whole  image Lucado presents. When I got to the witty part, it was easy for me to forget that he  starts off by  talking  about a fish who is dying.  As this poor Charlie the Tuna  gasps for water, people give him everything but....
         I can clearly see that showering a beached fish with money, prestige and "the good life"  isn't going to help him any.  The only thing that will help him, as Lucado says, is to send the fish back home, back to his natural environment.
        Unlike the fish, we can (and should) enjoy things here on earth.  Lucado isn't against being happy and experiencing the joys of earthly life.
         But he is saying that like the fish we are out of our natural element.
         And if we do feel happy, contented (satisfied?) day in and day out  with the things of this world, then something is wrong.  If we don't regularly feel that deep, unsatisfied longing in the gut for something better and if we never realize that the pursuit of wealth, new experiences, prestige,  sex and alcohol can't totally fill that void within us, then we're in worse shape than the fish.
        As he puts it, The only ultimate disaster that can befall us, I have come to realize, is to feel ourselves to be home on earth.  As long as we are aliens, we cannot forget our true homeland.
      In other words, Disneyland is great for the moment; but it can't take the place of Heaven and shouldn't take away our need to "phone home" on a regular basis!
         
       

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

=/

    Opposites do attract!
    My husband and I once took a spiritual gifts "inventory" at church - I totally maxed out  on encouragement and mercy.  I totally bottomed out (couldn't have gone any lower) on the gift of service.  Guess what?  My husband topped the chart on service (he couldn't have gone any higher) and bottomed out on mercy!  But he also topped the chart on discerning truth.
    So last night we get into a discussion on Iraq - I'm actually just wanting to recount the highlight of this great romance/thriller novel that I read on Iraq and how I just loved the part where they go into an underground church and everyone there, no matter what their previous background, loves and cares for each other (think lots of Happy Faces here), etc. When he starts telling me what our govt. should have done differently - not intending to stir up anything at all.
   So then I start looking at things from the Iraqi point of view, thinking about the people, their culture, and how they would feel if our govt. had dictated to them even more than it has... and boom... we were into a heated discussion that probably would have left the Iraqi's scratching their heads at how idiotic Americans can be...
   Like... don't these crazy Westerners have a life????
   And really, that's maybe the whole point of this blog... I'm thinking that maybe I don't... =/
   Like, maybe it's time to do something crazy wild (as far as my sedate life is concerned) and go busting off to a whole 'nother country (and I don't mean Texas...)
   But without my better half???  Who will argue with me at 11 P.M., apologize at 8 the next morning (even though he was right, incidentally), take me out to breakfast, and then break out a map of Israel to discuss all the fun places that I might get to see - never complaining that he isn't going to get to go -  and then head out to  bust out the paint cans so that he can spend his day off finishing   the bedroom, my headboard request having derailed him by a week or so....
   If I know what long-suffering, unselfishness, and servant heart mean, it's because of Phil.  I'm going to miss him!!

Monday, July 18, 2011

I didn't like writing this sooo... chances are...

      ...you aren't going to like reading it...   :(
      Clearly, I'm very unsure about writing this; what is on my mind today is definitely not PC and could be misinterpreted easily.  Also, the thoughts I want to share are disparate - not connected very well yet very much on my mind (which is pretty jumbled, even on the best of days!)
     I know it will sound silly - and maybe also judgmental (although I don't mean it that way) - but I have trouble with the phrase "love me some..."  Almost all my friends use it and I don't have any friends that are greedy, selfish, uncaring.  All are giving and tender-hearted.  So if it doesn't bother them, I know it shouldn't bother me.
    But it does.  The subject in that sentence is implied:  [I] love me....  is really how it starts out.  And I think that is one of the big problems of our society:  I love me!
   However, I realize the sentences that start off this way actually mean:  I love ______________.  But by putting the pronoun "me" early in the sentence, it paints a vivid picture in my mind.  Somehow, I always turn the sentence around  and see the person saying, I love this (item, thing, experience...) so much that I'm incorporating it into myself, I'm hugging it to myself, I'm loving myself by acquiring this.
   Again, I respect and love all my friends and all my friends basically use this phrase.  The problem I have is not with people who use it but with where it originated.  Hollywood, I'm guessing.  And the mainstream message that permeates our society - I'm loving me by buying, consuming, having this, that, or the other!
   So... do I do that?  Just ask Amazon.com......  Just ask who gets the last Hersey-with-almonds bar around here in our home!!  (Always!!!)   Yep, even though I don't use the phrase, I definitely live it...  And perhaps that is why the concept bothers me so much: I've bought into the current  mindset as much or more than anyone else.
   Last night I couldn't sleep and so I was trying to pray.  As the minutes slid into an hour or so, I did something out of the norm for me - I asked God what He wanted.  I did this more than once because each time I threw this question into the night air, the next thing I knew,  I would realize that I was thinking about what I wanted....  This happened about 4 times until  I finally gave up on this type of prayer, thinking maybe I was too tired or it was too weird a request.
   This morning I had a quiet time first thing  - something I don't always do honestly so don't get the wrong idea here.  Usually first thing in the morning, I love me some Hersey's (there!  I did use it!) and then eventually get around to reading me some Scripture - but am often unable to corral  my rabbity thoughts into more than arrow prayers because the day is advanced by that time and my mind is going in a thousand different directions...
   But this morning, I got on my knees and tried again with the weird prayer thing.  This time, I phrased it, "Lord, what is on Your heart?"  I did that several times and each time, I got the same instant impression.
   Twelve people.
   And the unnamed thousands  they represent.
   1.   Youcef Nadarkhani.        Iran  - In prison since Oct. 2010.  Sentenced to die. Guessing that's hard on his family!

   2.   Llmurad Nurlieve .          Turkmenistan  - In prison since August 2010.  He's asked for a Bible to read but the authorities won't give it to him.  Pretty sad...  I'm looking at the Bibles on my book shelf thinking, I'd gladly give him one of mine!!!!

   3.   Vahhik Abrahamian.       Iran - In prison since Sept. 2010.  He has dual citizenship and could have left Iran after his first imprisonment to live in his native Holland but chose to stay in Iran instead. Why?  So he could share Christ with the Iranian people. Pretty brave guy!  Could I do that? Honestly... no.

   4. Dr. Kiflu Gebremeskel.     Eritrea - In prison since May 2004.  He  has  a Ph.D. in mathematics from Chicago University and was a professor in his country.  Until he resigned that job to take up another - namely leading  a Christian church. His wife and 4 kids have not been allowed to visit him.  Don't think I could handle that either!  Knowing that PHil was in prison somewhere and had been for 7 years and we couldn't see him???

  5.  Kidane Weldou.              Eritrea - In prison since March 2005.    During a wave of persecution against Christians in Eritrea, he and other pastors were told to keep their mouths shut about what was going on. Guess what?  He didn't...   He got the news to friends in the West and now there's a real possibility he's cramped into a metal shipping container for days on end at times, convinced he's forgotten. And since it's hard for me to remember where Eritrea even is and I once taught geography, I'm guessing that for the most part, he's right - he is forgotten... But not by God!  (And so, I hope, not by me...)

   6.  Haile Nayzgi.                Eritrea - In prison since May 2004.  Same deal as above. Except that the charges against him  have yet to be released.  Ugghhh....  So much for civil rights...

   7.  Yang Rongli                  China - In prison since Nov. 2009.   Scheduled to be released 2017.  What's the deal there?  Preaching Christ is supposed to net  a 6 or 7  year sentence in China... Isn't that one year too many??  (And I imagine a year in a Chinese prison is pretty looooonnnnnnggggg)

   8.   Pastor Wang Xiaoguang. China - In prison since Nov. 2009.   His crime? Participating in a prayer rally on SEpt. 14, 2009. I can't imagine this...

   9.   Y Wo Nie.                   Vietnam - In prison since August 2004.  His wife finds it hard to get menial jobs and some days has no income.  Their youngest son is often sick. Since the father is a political prisoner, I'm guessing his wife and kids are ostracized - not much help for them.... Again, I would help them.. if I could!!! (But.... do i pray for them...?)

  10. Yang Xuan                     China - In prison since Nov. 2009.   The good news is that his daughter, Esther, is allowed limited visits to her dad in prison. Also to her mom in prison.  Their crime? You guessed it - participating in that iniquitous  prayer rally on  Sept. 14, 2009.  Why didn't they do this rally thing inside the church?  Because the police raided their church the day before...

   11.  Imran Ghafur.               Pakistan.  In prison since July 2009.   He's using his time to study God's word and has sent a message thanking all the Christians who have been praying for him, promising that he'll deliver his thanks personally when he is released.  If he is released...

   12.  Tohar Haydarov.          Uzbekistan - In prison since March 2010.  He's been charged with selling illegal drugs.  HIs church says his only crime was to serve God - that he is honest and the police set him up.  He's been sentenced to 10 years.  He looks pretty young in his pictures.. Wondering what he'll look like when he's released...

These are the prisoners that were highlighted on the Voice of the Martyrs website "prisoner alert" page.  I knew that already.  I just didn't know that when I asked God what was on His heart (repeatedly - since the first time I asked, He didn't respond with "you!!!"), that every time He would answer by bringing this list to mind.  I guess I just thought these were some good people with impossible-to-pronounce-names whose situations were not fun to read about. Or think about. And therefore, hard to pray about... for me, at least.

Now I know they are more than just weird names and tough situations - they are the answer to the question:  God, what is on Your heart?
   

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Two-pager turners, opposite ends of the spectrum...

   
   Over the past  five years, two novels and two novels only have actually caused me to  read feverishly late at night and at times also  halt part way through the book so that I could actually start writing down clues, determined to figure out the plot!
      The first book to have this affect on me was Randy Singer's The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney.  I'd never heard of Singer when I bought it - I just liked the title, the cover, and the blurb on the back.   As I neared the end of the mystery, I found myself declining invitations to go to lunch during in-service so that I could go out, buy a small notebook and start writing down all the various facts, hints, and innuendos Singer had deftly scattered  throughout the plot.  Can we say "obsessed"?  (Coincidentally, he still fooled me.. and he played fair!)
     Several days before I bought the notebook and became super-sleuth, I also purchased the companion book, The Cross-Examination of Jesus Christ - again  all in an effort to figure out who the bad guy was!!!   Singer uses various codes in his novel - each chapter has a clue with a different "cipher" giving new, vital information.  You can figure out the encrypted clues yourself  (I couldn't but I'm sure others who are into codes can) or you can buy the companion book, which gives more hints on how to crack the various codes. It is a brilliant way to get readers to buy an exciting novel and then have them wind  up reading about Christ. And really,  I feel this was his main goal - not to hook buyers into getting two books, although for a writer that's a fair goal, but to get people who might not otherwise read about Christ to consider His claims as the Messiah.
 (Coincidentally, you don't have to buy the non-fiction book - Singer explains each coded message at the end of each chapter in the novel. But if you want to try to beat the author at his game, the other book helps!)


       This summer has been a bonanza for sequels - almost as if some of my favorite authors decided to help me celebrate my retirement by cranking out the next book in their series.  One of these obliging authors, Davis Bunn, ticked me off, however!  I read his last two books,  Gold of Kings  and The Black Madonna.   Honestly, I had a little trouble staying with Gold of Kings but had no problems with The Black Madonna, really loved it - so much so that I went back and re-read Gold of Kings and on the second read, fell in love with it as well. But The Black Madonna was a great read anyway I looked at it.
     Except for the fact that.... The Black Madonna left things hanging - the anti-hero in a desperate situation  =/ !!!  So when I saw that Bunn had a new novel coming out, Lion of Babylon, I pre-ordered it for my Kindle and then waited anxiously for it to be released.
    It came and I got mad!   Huge Bummer!!!  This was NOT the sequel to anything.  It was a whole new novel!!  Agggghhhhh!!! I didn't know how he could do this to me!!!
    I complained ... to Phil, to the dog who was the only one awake when I actually started my new novel, to our son...  But then I got into this novel and ... honestly, I love it more than any of the others that I have read by him.  And that's saying a lot. Bunn has a background in international finance and yet, somehow, he's currently Writer-in-Residence at Regent's Park College, Oxford University.  (His web page and blog explain how he got from point A to point B.. an interesting story in and of itself).
    Although I was basically set against this novel from the first, I'm not yet half-way through and I found myself, once again - for the second time in 5 years -  taking notes on a thriller, determined that I'll figure this out before all is revealed!  In that sense, it's been hard to put the book down, truly a page-turner as I avidly look for fresh clues and anxiously await what might be lurking around the next corner...
    On the other hand, I've found myself actually turning back a page or two, trying to recapture some of the phrases that he uses because I love them.  I guess I'm saying, the book is not just suspenseful, it's a delight to read.
   For example, I love the passage where a hard-nosed  American is explaining an Intelligence operation to a very smart, low-key Iraqi. The situation, which involves a lot of back-stabbing, danger, and denial (of course!),  causes the Iraqi to respond with, "This is very curious... It is almost Arab." :)
  There are other passages that I love even more but it would take forever to find them on my Kindle. And I want to get back to the novel to find out what happens to the main characters, all of whom are  so real that it's hard for me to remember that they are, actually, not....  It's that type of a book.
   The book itself is dedicated to Anne Graham Lotz, which pretty much says there is a Christian vantage to all this, although I haven't come across it yet.  Still from the first page, it's obvious that the hero of the story is Christian - an American who soon joins up with a devout Iraqi Believer, almost as if they are two sides of the same coin.  At the same time, one of the most likable and noble characters in the book (so far) is Muslim and he's every bit as memorable, admirable as the others and I really like that.
    I started off mentioning two books - they are opposites in some respects. The hero in The Cross-Examination of Oliver Finney  is a flawed older man, a judge who has a dry wit, a smoker's cough,  a compassionate nature lurking under his crusty exterior, a major secret, and a desire to do something well for God.  He also stands out in my mind as if he were a real person, someone I feel nostalgic about b/c I never got to meet him in real life.. .if that makes any sense.
    And then you have the young, lithe, compassionate but rock-solid Marc Royce, former intelligence operative in Baghdad, working feverishly to save a friend while attracting the attention of a beautiful Iraqi woman...:)
    Heroes at the opposite end of the spectrum but both books are truly great reads in my opinion. So good that I felt like I would be failing in some way if I didn't stop and  put in print how amazing they are.
 
 
 

Friday, July 15, 2011

The mysterious sweetness of life...

     The sweet elixir in our hummingbird feeder is three-fourths gone.  But as I sat and watched one hummingbird feed this morning, I couldn't detect any sign that he was worried about how long his food supply would last.  He just drank repeatedly and I hope deeply of the nourishment we provide free of charge.
 
 


 For a while there was just one bird feeding; now there are two and often they fight each other. One repels the other as best he can, defending his space - which really is our space!  Often they fly perilously close to the glass window behind the feeder.  There's no need for this - our yard is more than big enough for both of them and their supply of food never runs out.  The truth is, for all their beauty, they can be vicious little territorial creatures.


And still we provide for them.  As far as they are concerned, the elixir comes from nowhere.  I feel sure they have no clue that often they are watched, that the glass in our window is transparent and that a whole world exists mostly out of their sight, out of their realm of experience.

    If they could talk, I wonder if they would argue with each other - posturing various theories about where the mysterious sweetness of life comes from, whether or not there really is some unseen being watching over them and if there is, why does this being allow so much fighting and carnage to go on in their world?



But I say love your enemies...In that way, you will be acting as true children of your father in Heaven.  For He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and unjust alike.   Matt. 5:44-45

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Focus makes all the difference...

Briton Riviere's Daniel in the Lion's Den and Daniel's Answer to the king.

Romance, Pure and Simple...

      BAck in the Fall of 1972 during  my first week of college, I got a phone call saying my Great Uncle Nathan had died. He was in his 80's and I didn't think I would be affected by his death because we had never been that close.  But I found to my surprise that I missed him.  He was, as my mother would say, a character and when he died he definitely left a void.
     He told me that when  he was a boy he used to hide every time his dad would get out the wagon to go to town. He knew that he not only wouldn't get to go but also that he would be given a list of chores to do before his dad got back. Apparently, hiding didn't help any and he still always got a list of tasks to work through in the requisite amount of time. To fail in this endeavor meant certain "licks" with a belt so he learned to work diligently at a young age.
      As a young man, he continued farming.  But after he had married and they had  several children, he felt that the Lord was "calling him to preach."  He couldn't go to seminary so he copied Bible verses onto scrap sheets of paper and tucked those pieces of paper into his hat band.  Then he'd head to the field but before he plowed a row, he would memorize one of the verses and  tuck it back in his hatband. When he got to the end of the row, he'd pull out the verse to check himself for accuracy. In this way, he taught himself the Bible.
    His first wife was upset when Nathan decided to preach -it wasn't an easy life and involved a lot of traveling.  She said that she hadn't married a preacher and she wasn't going to live with one. IN a day when it was practically unheard of, they separated but never divorced.   She kept the children and when she died a few years after their separation, the children were basically grown.
   People began to feel sorry for the preacher who was a widower so a little matchmaking ensued.  One of the community members talked about a woman named Jewel, who was a "widow-woman" and a fine Christian  with no children.  On top of that she had a sweet disposition, could cook, and played the piano.
   That was enough for Nathan. He "called on" her, talked to her for a bit and then, the next day, he came right back and proposed to her:)  She was taken aback and said gently that they didn't know enough about each other.  He replied that he knew all he needed to know about her....  She diplomatically explained that she needed a little more time to get to know him...
   Since he didn't live in her community, their courtship took place via letters.   Many years later, as a college student, I was shocked when aunt Jewel brought out a bundle of these letters, neatly tied with a ribbon.  The Nathan I had known was an elderly, plain-spoken, weather-beaten, sort of crusty old farmer and Missionary Baptist evangelist.  He could be stern and as a child, I remembered my siblings  putting me in the "picture" window to watch for Nathan and Jewel because Nathan didn't approve of card-playing.  If I saw their car, I'd sing out a warning and the rest of the family would gather up the Rook cards (or even the Old Maid cards!!!), fold up the card table and plump up the cushions so that by the time Nathan and Jewel arrived, no sign of  the iniquitous playing deck could be seen - everybody innocently watching black and white t.v. or reading the paper.  That was my Uncle Nathan!!!!   But when I saw the letters he had written to Jewel - wow! He had etched flowers and vines all over the outside of the envelopes in pen and ink. Not kidding!  By the time I learned of their existence Jewel's eyes were failing, so she would ask me to read one to her but every time I started, almost immediately she would blush and say, "No, don't read that next part there... Nathan probably wrote some things he shouldn't have; he had a big romantic streak in him..."
    Indeed...  The letters were quaint and at the same time.. um, passionate!  So much so that she made me promise I would throw them away when she died and then, because it worried her so, she went ahead and threw them away herself, something that even as a college student I knew must have been like tossing part of her heart away.
   At any rate, he began sending flowery letters to her regularly - although the first ones were pretty innocuous  because they weren't engaged yet.  And then she became concerned again that things were going too fast. So she wrote to him and said she thought they shouldn't correspond anymore for a while.  The letters immediately stopped coming and during this interval the mailman became "sweet" on her, as she put it.
   But she missed Nathan and when she was sure of her own heart, she wrote to him once more, saying she thought it might be a good idea for them to exchange letters  again.  That was all it took!  Within days, the decorated envelopes came winging her way once more and when they continued to come, the local mailman  reluctantly gave up...
   Some time later,  Nathan and Jewel were married in a little country church. My mom played the piano for the simple ceremony.  AFter they left the church, my uncle was driving down a narrow country road, his arm around Aunt Jewel, when he came upon a 90 degree turn in the road.  He didn't make it - one of the tires went dangling off the pavement over a little stream and they had to get some help to get the car back on the road.  Nathan told her later that she could plainly see it had been a long time since he'd driven with a sweetheart by his side and that he was out of practice:)
    Their marriage lasted for decades, ending with Nathan's death.  They traveled to Singings and Dinner-on-the- Ground at various churches as well as to his family reunions in Texas.  To save money, he would coast the monster cars that he drove down hills, scaring Jewel to death because she was convinced that when he took his foot off the gas peddle, he was in danger of losing control of the vehicle. He was always tanned - I didn't realize until just a few years ago while looking at his photos  that he must have been  at least half  Native American. Jewel was probably the palest person I ever knew and to protect her skin from getting sunburned, she would hold a newspaper over her arms while he drove them all over the countryside.  

Visiting an orphanage, 1960

       He wouldn't celebrate Christmas because he said no one knew for sure when Christ was born.   As kids, my siblings and I were relieved that Aunt Jewel's birthday was Dec. 25 - we felt like that was God's way of preventing a disaster by making sure she did get at least one  gift on Christmas Day!  He also objected to women wearing shorts - I never saw my aunt Jewel in anything besides  a dress, thick hose, and on weekdays, a full-size apron.  (After Uncle Nathan died, Aunt Jewel's health declined and she was admitted to the hospital for evaluation. A young doctor came in one day, gave her a pep talk and said that in the morning, a nurse would be coming to take her picture. She got up early the next morning so that she could put on her best dress, her hose, her Sunday shoes, and fix her hair.  She didn't understand that the doctor meant they were going to x-ray her!)
    We didn't always agree with Nathan's strict beliefs but we always respected him.  As I look back on his life - starting out when people went to town (Cabot) in a horse and buggy and dying a few years after the EAgle landed on the moon - he saw tremendous change.  He went from farming to preaching, buried one wife and married another.  And really, the verse that comes to mind when I think of him is "Jesus said to him, 'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."  Luke 9: 62.  Setting his hand to the plow and not looking back.. That would be Uncle Nathan.
   Except there were those letters  ;>)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rainy days:)

Awesome Halloween costumes!
     When I was a pre-schooler ( I don't think we had that term back then), I used to hate rainy days.  To get me over my crankiness, my grandmother would have me recite the little rhyme:
     Rain, rain go away
     Come again another day....
My grandmother
     Being gullible, I can remember repeating  that poem  fervently and then getting on the couch, kneeling on the seat cushions  with my arms folded over the back of the sofa, watching through the window  to see if the sky would obey me or not.
    Most of the time, the answer was "not".
    Only now, 50 years later, does it occur to me that the little poem doesn't even make much sense. If I hated rainy days with a passion, which  I did, then banishing the rain to another day just meant that sooner or later I would have a rotten, rainy day.
    Ironically, over the years, walking in a light rain at evening time has come to be one of my favorite things to do.  I could do it every day in fall, spring, and summer and I don't think I would grow tired of it.  (Well, if I were in the Rain Forest, I would but...) And when there is a huge downpour where the water just floods off our porch overhang and creates a white curtain that sort of shuts the rest of the world out, I have to stop and watch it, always amazed at the power of the deluge   as well as the sheer beauty of it.
    Right now, I wish it were that easy to wash away the impurities of my heart.  To wash away the stress and strains of family life.   To wash away the nastiness of national politics.  And finally, to wash away the black ink, literally off the newspaper that delineates another terrorist attack.


    Another memory I have  from when I was small: sitting in a tiny country church (the singing could best be described as caterwauling, truly), while adults fanned themselves with Funeral HOme paper fans and we kids played until someone, usually me, got a bit carried away and then, literally got carried away... (My grandmother had the ugliest black shoes in the world and they sounded like artillery going off when she stomped across the church floor to jerk me up by the nape of my neck... Some memories never fade!)



My grandfather and my grandmother

    But somewhere among the playing and the paddlings, I still remember these lyrics:
    Showers of blessings, showers of blessings we need... Mercy drops round us are falling but for the showers we plead...
    Maybe an old hymn.. but I think we need it now as much or more than we did when I first became acquainted with it.



My Great Uncle Nathan getting ready to baptize someone.

Monday, July 11, 2011

PHil 3 and 4

   
You can't steer a car by the light emanating from the brakes or even from the the tail lights. You can't go forward if you spend all your time looking in the rear view mirror.
      We all know that.  However, if you live very long, you may be tempted to live in the light of the past. I certainly have been and still am from time to time.
      Why did I  do such and such?
      What if I had done such and such instead?
      Is the backlash from  _________  ever going to die down?
      Why didn't I do what so and so did, back when I was younger and had the chance?
      Philippians has been called the mental health book of the Bible with good reason.
      This morning as I was reading, these are some of the commands/examples that I saw:
            *Rejoice in the Lord.  Somehow - don't know how - this protects us.  (3:1)
            *Serve in the power of the Spirit of God. (3:3)
            *Boast in Christ Jesus (3:3)
            *Do not put confidence in the flesh (3:3)
            *Forget what is behind, what is past. (3:13)
            *Move forward to what is ahead. (3:13)
            *Set your goal - to go after the highest prize, the one gain that is better than having
                - a famous, well-respected family going back for generations
                - a position as an ardent patriot and national leader
                - a prestigious academic career  (having more degrees than a thermometer as a friend used to say)
                - a stellar record as a passionate activist
                - an impeccable, unsullied reputation  (and who wants to give up their reputation if it's impeccable?)
            Give up all of that?  Why?  Not to be poorer but instead, to be richer...
            In order to  know Him, experience His power,enter into the fellowship (circle) of His suffering, and eventually to be conformed to His death as well as  raised with Him to dwell in a world without end.
           

           Basically, in Paul's society, he had it all. In our day, it would be as if he came from the top echelon of our society, graduated from Harvard,  became a noteworthy expert and a sought-after leader, and proved by his zeal that he was fearless as well as ruthless in protecting the things his society valued. People looked up to him.
       
           And then God felled him.
           Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are persecuting Me?"
           "Who are you, Lord..."
           "I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting..."
                                      Acts. 9:3-6
           This brilliant leader went out with zeal and then, as he wrote in Acts 21:22, was felled to the ground by a light... yes, a light. Not an army.  Not a sword.  By a light. One of the greatest scholars of his day, he suddenly couldn't see. Anything.  There he was, on his knees, probably terrified, maybe scrabbling around in the dirt, trying to find solid ground in more ways than one.  This is what he wrote: "I was led by the hand of those who were with me."
          Little children and older adults are led by the hand.  The blind, the sick, and the weak are led by the hand.  How could this be happening to him - someone at the pinnacle of society?
         A better question would be - how did this experience affect him?
         He gave up everything. He turned his back on his family heritage, he gave up his reputation, he became a member of a low-life, despised sect, one of the ones that he himself had been hunting before God felled  him with a light.
       He could have easily wasted hours upon hours regretting his pride, his zeal which led to the arrest of many people that he now knew were innocent and he certainly could have dwelt on the souls who died because of his passion.  He could have cringed time and again as he dwelt on the fact that God had to literally knock him  to his knees in front of his followers to get his attention.
     But apparently, when he was blinded, he saw something - or someone - for the first time.  And like the  Wise Men following a brilliant light in the sky, he kept his focus on this unbelievable treasure - this astounding being - this One whom he considered more desirable than anything else that he had ever owned or ever attained and more precious thanany other person   he had ever known.  E. Stanley Jones once said that he found the pearl of great price and ever since, he had been hugging himself because he had the good sense to sell all that he had in order to buy the field where it was hidden. I think Paul would agree.
     His advice?
     Rejoice in the Lord.  
    Go after Him with all your being.
    Forget what is past...
    Move forward.
    In Phil 4, he elaborates on how to do that:
    Again, he writes:
   Rejoice in the Lord  (4:4).  (Either Paul stuttered when he wrote or this was very important to his Christian walk...)
   Don't worry about anything (4:6)
   Pray about everything  (4:6)
   And think on these things:
            what is true
            what is honorable
            what is just
            what is pure
            what is lovely
            what is commendable
            what is morally excellent
             what is worthy of praise.
In other words, focus on  the Light, not on the past...
  
      

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Ten on the Tenth... For these things and many others...


1. I'm grateful that my hope is not in the government, not in the Republicans and not in the Democrats.

2. I'm grateful that the Bible says God finds a woman's quiet and gentle spirit (I Peter 3) beautiful and it doesn't mention mascara, fat-free foods, platform heels, spandex tights,  or designer clothes...


3. I'm grateful the television has an "off" button that works and that I know how to use it...



4. I'm grateful for Hummingbirds that feed in front of our living room window during the day and lightening bugs that flit across our yard at twilight.  Seeing them brings happiness; something that observing fine jewelry really doesn't  do for me.  Man's best creation pales beside God's least...



5.  I'm grateful that I can slip into church on Sunday morning  and it's like coming home after a long, stressful  day; I can relax and set aside the cares of my heart.



6. I'm grateful for quiet week-day mornings when I can get back into bed  and enjoy the luxury of perusing  the morning paper while our two terriers curl up at my feet.  From the paper, I learn what's wrong with the world. From Lilly and Buddie I learn what's right with the world.






7. I'm grateful for summer nights when I can sit up until the wee hours, practically biting my nails as I pursue countless ne'er-do-wells across the spotlighted page of my Kindle.  It's amazing how many times the world has been saved over the past month around 2 or 3 in the morning...:)  Book lights and e-books are wonderful...





8.  I'm grateful for the way foliage is reflected on the still surface of a pond and for the Blue Heron who used to rendezvous with me at the Oasis from time to time. He would stand silently in the shallow water while I sat silently, watching him from the dock.  The first time we met in solitude  was Sept. 11, 2001.  Watching him brought peace to my troubled heart and mind.  I'm glad God created Blue Herons and sent that particular one into my world at that particular time.




9.  I'm grateful that my son still has friends who feel free to come and go at our house, sometimes bunking overnight.  And that I still never know for sure how many air soft guns I'll find in the living room or who will be sleeping on the couch and/or in the guest bedroom.  (I'm also grateful for frozen pizzas, pizza rolls, hot dogs, and cereal as well as for the fact that the guys are old enough to fix their own).


10. I'm grateful that over the years, as ordinary as our house is and as bad a housekeeper as I am, God has used this place as a temporary dwelling place for people who just needed somewhere to stay for a night, a week, a month, or even a year or two.  I wish it had been used more.  No one ever stayed here without giving as much or more than they received.  In some way, each one is still a part of our lives.

For these things and many others, I'm grateful.... 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Not in this life; not in the next...

     I didn't follow the Casey Anthony trial - really was totally clueless until comments started popping up on Face Book.  Even then, I didn't start reading about it until after the verdict was read - which obviously steamed a lot of people.  So what many in the nation have been following for weeks/months, I've just been reading about over the past 24 hours or so.
    In spite of being a late-comer, like many, I believe the mom probably did it. Going back to the basics, she had the means and the opportunity and  I think it could be reasonably said that she had motive -she simply didn't want to be encumbered with a child anymore.  She didn't want a babysitter; she wanted to be totally free to pursue her own agenda.
    Like many, I feel the facts, taken as a whole, point to guilt.  The fact that Casey didn't report her child missing. Even more to the point, the fact that she covered up Caylee's disappearance for a month - something murderers (but also accomplices) do...  The fact that she borrowed a shovel and Caylee's body was found buried.  The fact that at least one expert testified that chloroform had been in Casey's trunk and that her mom said the trunk stank like a dead body had been in it. The fact that Casey's computer showed google searches for chloroform and how to break necks, not your usual search-engine topics.  The fact that the defense's explanation of these google searches did not hold water.  The fact that the child was found with masking tape around her skull - something that does not occur with drowning deaths...   The fact that Casey  was photographed happily partying a few days after her daughter disappeared.
   All these are pretty damning in my opinion.
   But I don't think the law failed.  Or the jurors screwed up.  I've read that some of the jurors have said that they wanted the prosecution to have a stronger case, they wanted enough evidence to put Casey away. They just didn't have it.
  And really, they didn't.  As a mother, I know there's something horribly wrong if you don't report that your toddler is missing and even try to hide that fact for a month.  And you for sure don't go out partying two days after your child goes missing.  But that's a gut feeling.
  In order to prove the case, they had to prove how Caylee died and they simply couldn't do that.  The body had been in the ground for too long.  That wasn't the fault of the prosecutors or the jurors.  A legal decision, especially in the case of murder, has to go by the book - not by the gut.
  But there is another legal system, as the Sullivan Four blog clearly states.  At some point, justice will be done.  In Genesis, Abraham pleads with the Lord to spare the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah.  He argues, "Will not the Lord of all the earth do right?'  The implication being:  yes, You, the Lord will do what is right. I know that. That's why I am appealing to You for the sake of my loved ones.
   Sometimes right is so hard to balance.  The cry coming out of Sodom and Gomorrah was very great, according to the Lord.  The Holman Study Bible commentary says that it was the cry of the victims that God heard. Also,  He saw the wickedness in those cities - which included gang rape which sounds like Darfur in some ways. And He saw the righteous in those cities even though there was only a handful left - still He saw them.  He sees  the Caylee's of the world whose blood cries out from the ground (and there are many), the Casey's of the world who have no moral compunctions, only Machiavellian plans to achieve their goals (I have no regrets... I trust my judgement completely.. I can only hope the end justifies the means).  And He sees the decent people of the world who don't deserve to be swept away with the wicked.
   God sees it all and He has to judge it all.  Some of the tares cannot be separated from the wheat until the harvest is all in.  Sometimes, for whatever reason, the wheat is overcome by the tares and the weeds of wickedness seem to run rampant.   Only God can sort it all out and only when the last act is played, can all the real justice begin.
   In Genesis 15, God told Abraham what the future would hold for his descendants. He didn't hold back in his description, telling him that his offspring would be "enslaved and oppressed 400 years".(v13.)  He went on to say that He, God Himself, would judge the oppressors and return the Israelite people to their homeland after 400 years. Why so long????  Couldn't He have done it sooner? ?  Because that's how long it would take for the iniquity of a people called the Amorites to reach the place where they would be ready for judgment.  Apparently their judgement would coincide with Israel's return to their homeland. In other words, the Israelites would beat the heck out of the Amorites and take their land away from them because, behind the scenes, God had said, "Enough!  You've had plenty of time to repent! You're done! I'm sending the people of Israel to clean your plow and take your place."
   Sometimes justice is served through the law but.. it's not enough.  Always, there is God's judgment looming ahead and it will be enough.  In the meantime, I think God sometimes (not always) uses natural consequences to bring about justice as he did when the Israelites took over the Amorites.   Were the Amorites into debauchery and wickedness in violation of God's law ?  Had that wild life-style  weakened them to the point that they weren't able to stand up to the Jews who had been living off the land of Egypt, working hard as shepherds and then as slaves, eschewing the "good" life because they had no other choice?
    What I guess I'm saying here is, yes, my gut says Casey is guilty and it twists a bit when I think about the verdict.  But would I want to be Casey?  Not in this life; not in the next.  If the debauchery that marks her life doesn't take her out at a relatively young age, the company she keeps will certainly turn on her in the end.  From what I've read "hedonistic", "narcissistic", "pathological liar"  and "not a nice person" (as one juror called her) pretty much describes her, apart from the issue of murder.  As Beth Moore likes to say, "Baggage attracts baggage."  Or as one of my son's friends put it a while back - nice, quiet guys don't run with wild, nasty girls.  In the end, slime calls to slime and I really don't believe that Casey will get off in this life or in the next. I think she carries the seeds of her own judgment within her and I don't think any sane person would want to trade places with her, the current verdict notwithstanding.
 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Turning children's hearts toward Columbia...

  This should be refreshing b/c it isn't about me:)
  Many years ago, when we were involved in IFO ministry, we became friends with a neat girl from Columbia.  She gave our son Spanish lessons and went camping with us - was just a conscientious, hard-working, tender-hearted college student. She missed her family but as the time drew near to return, she was worried because so many people have been kidnapped in Columbia.
  Having the privilege of knowing this sweet girl put a human face on a problem that for us, had never even been a blip on our  radar screen.  Then last August, I got to hear Russell Stendahl speak at a conference.  I was impressed by his quiet demeanor and his powerful message. But it was no wonder his message was strong - he had been held by Marxist Guerrilla soldiers for 5 months when he was younger.  God spoke to his heart during that time and since his release, he has continued to work in Columbia and had his kids working by his side as well.
  Just to let you know, Voice of the Martyrs puts together small packets which they drop into the jungles of Columbia - Russell Stendahl drops them from his plane in addition to his treks on horseback into this dangerous area.  The packets carry the Gospel and they are working - some of these kidnappers are finding the Lord and having their lives totally turned around.
   You can order a few packets and then turn it into a family project because kids can help put them together. I think this is a neat way to teach children about missions, about Columbia,and at the same time, help change lives.
  The first and obvious goal is that these women and men, many of them still in their teens, will come to know the Lord. The second is that sweet people like our Colombian friend will no longer have to live in fear of being kidnapped.
 

What is learned...

     Sometimes I think that various members of my family could have won a gold medal in the sport of leaping off the deep end; maybe the only sport we could have excelled in as a family, now that I think about it... We weren't very athletic...
    In my family, things tended to be either/or, now or never, wonderful or terrible.  Small mishaps were perceived as hidden time bombs that could lead to a whole chain of events ending in nothing less than nuclear meltdown. If you made a minor mistake at work, that revelation could lead someone in the family to freak out and paint a dire scenario of how this one mistake could eventually lead to being fired which meant you might not be hired ever again and before you knew it, boom, there you'd be: on skid row...  Seriously, that was one aspect of my upbringing. And I learned those lessons well.
   Today,some Gremlins came calling:  "what if", "oh my gosh what have I done" and "w'ere headed to heck in a hand basket" came visiting simply because I have finalized our plans to travel overseas.  It's a lot of money... what if one of us gets sick.. or the airlines go on strike and we can't go and we lose thousands of dollars.......or what if I spend the whole two weeks hot-flashing through Israel..? Why did I ever think I could take my geriatric self to a country in the Mid East?  Or what if something happens back home while we are gone... Or what if.... I'm sure you get the picture.
   While I was stressing,  I was doing laundry - if anyone doesn't understand the meaning of eternal, they can live with us for a week and watch the never-ending supply of laundry pile up every morning like manna in the wilderness - and I had an epiphany. (Btw, my epiphanies always happen either in the canned goods section of Krogers  or in our laundry room - don't know why - they just do).   At any rate,  I suddenly felt like God was asking me, "Who taught you to fret like this?"  The answer was: my mom fretted like this. The next thought that was still-voiced through my heart was: That's right; it didn't come from Me.
    I thought about that.  I thought about what some of the O.T. prophets wrote and they were definitely a gloomy bunch. They delivered one downer of a message after another because  Israel persevered for years in the wrong direction.  But God wasn't quick to write them off; instead He kept trying to turn them around, giving them second and third and fourth and fifth chances. And even when they continued to mess up, He always told them: yes, there is a time of punishment coming but afterwards, you will turn to Me and I will restore your blessings. In other words, He never wrote them off completely no matter how many mistakes they made.
    And then there was Abraham - I was reading about him this morning. Like he tried to pass his wife off as his sister because he was afraid that if people knew she was his wife, they would, um,  kill him in order to get her. And she did get taken by a pagan king. ANd if that had happened in my family, whoa Buddy!  There would have been hand-wringing, stress-city like you cannot imagine.  It would have all been over!  You'll never get your wife back!  You've ruined this whole God-thing that you were supposed to have going!  The family line will end here in the deserts of no-where and our name will be mud forever b/c you got scared and told a lie and now look where we are!!!! And what about the neighbors (pagan nations) around us - what will they think?  etc...
    And really, Abraham's lie did get them into a serious bind.  But God didn't stress and he didn't write Abraham off as a lost cause and while Sara probably had a few choice, even dire thoughts going through her mind as she languished in the king's harem, none of those dire things happened. God intervened and carried on with His plans for Abraham, human weakness, frailty and error notwithstanding.
    Bottom line: God is patient and He's not into jumping off the deep end, fretting is not His thing.
    And it doesn't need to be mine either. What is learned.. can be unlearned...
    And that's good!
 
 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

This is not the time to cry; you have to play...:)

      Today I got to work with a class of three-year-olds at church: the Ducks.  (I'm a little worried about my next time to volunteer - I'll be in with the Squirrels...:)
      These are the things I learned...
       *Windows must be shared... There was only window pane that went all the way to the floor.  So when the parents started coming to the pre-school area the kids all wanted to crowd into that one space to watch for mom and dad. But it wasn't just that they wanted to watch... they wanted to make sure that no one else got to watch!
       *Washing hands with real soap is a fun activity  -more so than playing with the toys scattered on the floors. (Toys are there to be scattered, stacked, thrown,  and/or grabbed from others; they are not for playing with).
       *If one child has to go to the bathroom, they all have to go to the bathroom...
       *Not all kids at this age are potty trained. Workers need to ascertain this vital fact before taking a kid to the bathroom.  Kids who are not potty trained can reel out a surprising amount of toilet paper from the dispenser in just a short time.. and while they are cluelessly playing with the toilet paper, someone who is potty-trained may be in a bind...
      * Parents should I.D.kids' shoes.  Two girls. Two pairs of white sandals. Both sets of footwear kicked off early in the game.   Both kids claimed both pairs of shoes.. until just before mom and dad arrived and then, suddenly, they magically knew which pair belonged to which!
       * Barney toys now have buttons that not only sound like a car horn honking but also have the chirp-chirp of a car locking - times have changed since my child was pre-school... 
      *Name stickers on the backs of clothes are worthless... except as a potential toy.
      *And when a child, thirty minutes into the worship service suddenly realizes mom is gone and begins to wail, the best response is to go over to them, take them firmly by the hand and say, This is not the time to cry, you have to play now...
      Although it may sound like I didn't have fun, I did.  Three-year-olds are at a sweet age and I loved looking at their little faces, even the ones that were puckered up, ready to emit a siren-like wail.  Maybe it's because I'm approaching my second child-hood, but I could actually  see how hitting the soap dispenser 40 times or pulling out a yard long string of toilet paper could be fun.  And honestly, I wish someone had explained to me when I was younger that there's a time to cry and a time to play - a useful piece of information in my mind!