Friday, September 30, 2011

Want a blessing? Think Iran...

      I woke up this morning thinking about magic carpet rides and tales of a 1,001 nights...
      Yep, it's going to be another weird blog so fasten your seat belts......
      I wonder if you've ever had a picture to "freeze" in your mind and stay that way for years?  And then suddenly you see Aunt Gracie at a reunion and realize that she's totally changed from the way you remembered her.  Or Johnny is no longer pushing a trike around as he was in the photo you have but now is sporting  a beard and has a deep voice - that type of thing.
     When I was in my mid-twenties, I formed some snapshots in my mind of a country called Iran.  Angry students climbing over our embassy wall; our people being held hostage for over a year; crowds burning effigies of our president, Jimmy Carter, and shouting, "Death to the Great Satan, Am-ri-ka!!!"  I formed the impression that the Iranians were primitive, backward,hate-filled people and that photo stayed in my mind for many  years.
     When I taught ancient history, I knew that the Persians had an impressive empire that was very tolerant for that day and age.  I knew that their poetry, their culture, their love of learning was equally impressive.  I knew that they had a heritage that made us Americans look like Johnny-come-latelys, like cultural pikers.
     But somehow, I totally divorced what I knew about the Persians from what I knew about Iran. Yet, it's one and the same place.  Changed a lot over thousands of years, granted. But still basically the same people. People who have a long history of loving great poetry, beautiful gardens, and life in general.
    My perception of Iran began to change in 2006 when the country had a presidential election and "chose" Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as their leader.  Everything I read at that time said that the Iranian people didn't want this guy - and that was really news to me!  News articles said  that a council of 12 religious leaders ran modern-day Persia with a tight-fist and that these leaders (Mullahs) had  basically narrowed down the presidential candidates until the people had a choice between Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum. In other words: no choice at all. You can vote for this religious fanatic or for this one - take your pick....    I had the opportunity to visit with someone from Iran during the election and they verified this was the case - the people didn't want Ahmadinejad but they didn't really have a choice.  Over time, he's proven to be a fanatical nutcase.
   At the same time, I  began to hear about how the great Islamic Revolution that turned Iran upside down in 1979 and led to the taking of our embassy people and the tight-fisted grip of the Mullahs - I began to hear that this great Islamic experiment had totally  backfired, failed; basically had turned hundreds of thousands of Iranians against  Islam, ironically enough. Honestly, I never dreamed that would ever happen. In my mind, I was still seeing those 30-year-old snapshots of Iranian students yelling, "Death to Am-ri-ka!"  and beating themselves on the backs with whips to earn Allah's favor.
   It never crossed my mind that many Iranians quickly became disillusioned with the Ayatollah's government and soon after the revolution, began to search  for peace in other ways.  Sadly,  many of them turned to drugs and today it is reported that Iran has the biggest drug problem of any nation in the world.  It's probably because they have more people in emotional and spiritual pain than any place else on the planet.  Thirty years of being beaten down in the name of religion has taken a huge toll on these people who have such a rich cultural heritage.
   At the same time, I have heard repeatedly and have had it verified by someone again who has traveled extensively in the Middle East, that Iranians are coming to Christ by the thousands.  Although we don't have a precise number, it's estimated that 700 to 800 Iranians profess faith in Jesus Christ each month.  Many are willing to risk death in order to cling to Christ because He gives them peace, He gives them hope.  I guess when you've lived without hope, when you finally find it - you are willing to risk everything to hang onto it.
   So  I'm saying the "snap shots" I formed of Iranian people back in 1979 are faded, cracked, and out-of-date.  (And do the Iranian people have reason to hate the West - they are rich in oil and have a troubled past so what do you think?  If I were Iranian, I probably would have been yelling "Death to Am-ri-ka" back in the 70's too!)   At any rate, while these images remained static in my mind, many  Iranian people were moving forward, seeking to leave the past behind in spite of a repressive government that brutally blocks their way.
   Now one of their pastors is either in jail awaiting execution or has already been executed today or is in the process of getting a reprieve. I haven't checked the news this morning so I don't know what Pastor Youcef's status is right now. I do know that after he was sentenced to death for the crime of accepting Christ, he went through a series of appeals.  At the last one, just days ago, the judge ruled that although Youcef never practiced Islam as an adult, still he had to repent and return to his faith.  Youcef asked what he should repent of and return to? Should he go back to blasphemy?  The judge told him that since his family had been Muslim, he must return to Islam. Youcef replied, "I cannot."  The courage it took to do that, I cannot imagine...
    Iran:  once known as Persia, the land of flying carpet tales and beautiful poetry.  Iran: a land that underwent a harsh revolution in 1979, believing this strict religious experiment would bring peace.  Iran: a land where God is working in ways I've never seen here and where people like Pastor Youcef are taking incredibly brave steps in order to share their faith.
   Each month I pray that God will add at least a  1,000 Iranian people to His kingdom. This idea didn't originate with me.  If you have found peace in Christ, would you join  in praying this prayer for Iran?  And would you especially say a prayer for Pastor Youcef and his family today, as well as for all the other Iranians who are in prison right now for religious or political reasons?
  I'm sure God will bless you if you do.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

You've done an awesome job, Job!

     I don't like to see people suffer so one of my least favorite books in the Bible is the book of Job.  For this reason, I wasn't jumping for  joy when I learned last May that we would be studying Job in Community Bible Study this Fall.  However, it's been a good study and I've learned something valuable:  when a friend is really suffering, the best thing you can do is sit quietly beside them, grieve with them,  and keep your mouth shut!  (Something that's not easy for me, as my friends all know!)
   But the thing that really intrigued me and has never been far from my mind during these weeks is the dialogue between God and Satan  at the beginning of the book.  Honestly, I've never really liked the idea that God would brag on Job, bringing the patriarch to Satan's attention, and then cavalierly give Satan permission to make Job's life miserable.
   At the same time, this scene is startling to me, fascinating even, because it's exposing life on two levels: the natural and the super-natural.  Clearly, the inhabitants of the supernatural world are aware of happenings on earth while  we earthlings are pretty much clueless about what's going on in the unseen world around us.
       And this is what sets up the tension in the narrative - a curtain has been pulled back on this extraordinary scene in Heaven and  we know  from the get-go that Job  truly is a good man!   Something his friends should also know but in the heat of the moment, don't!  So you find yourself (or at least I did) wanting to shout at Job's friends, "You've got it all wrong, you self-righteous idiots!"    Equally,  as Job sinks under his afflictions and his "friends'" accusations, it's hard not to stand up and yell, "You've done an awesome job, Job!  Hang in there!  God is sooo proud of you!  And the end is going to be good, really good!"
    But still, even though I "get" all that - God is proud of Job; Job's suffering is temporary; and his blessings will far outweigh what he suffered - I couldn't help wondering why God even brought Job up at all because it just seems to my twenty-first century mind that by mentioning Job to Satan, all God did was  paint a bulls eye on Job's back.   As one of my friends said many years ago:  kind of makes me hope God doesn't brag on me... Like, thanks, God but, um, no thanks!  
    So I went to the Matthew Henry commentary (because I was able to download it on my Kindle for something like 4.00.... Do you know how big that book is???  Four bucks!!!  Wow, what a bargain... Anyway, I digress...) and honestly I couldn't understand all of what Henry wrote about this passage - the "thee's" and "thou's" sort of got in the way and he's a bit wordy for my taste. (Still, four bucks!! :) But I did get some things from him which when combined with the CBS info really helped me.
   1.  God is omniscient.  The first thing God asks  Satan is where has he (Satan) been.  God knows the answer already but  quizzes Satan in the same way an adult might quiz a child, wanting the child to verbalize the answer for whatever reason.
   2.  Satan says he has been walking back and forth on the earth.  I Peter 5:8 goes further by telling us that Satan doesn't just stroll around on the earth to enjoy the scenery. He has a purpose and we need to be alert, to remember that.
   3.  Since Job was so blameless and upright that even God would commend  him, it's hard to believe Satan had over-looked Job.  When God asks if Satan has thought about  His servant, Job, Satan doesn't reply, "Job who?" but instead busts out with, "He's not your guy without reason!! You've got a security wall around him like nobody's business and he's rolling in wealth!!!"  (Slight paraphrase...)
  4. Which brings another point to mind - Satan is devious while God is open.    As Matthew Henry says, Satan implies that Job is a mercenary - that he is for hire to the highest bidder.  Implications are hard to refute and perhaps this is one reason God brings everything, including Job's faith, out into the open.
  5.  And Job's faith is impressive.  God says there is no one else on the earth like Job.  And that's where the line is drawn in the sand:  if Satan can cause Job, the most devout man on earth, to curse God and die (as Job's poor wife suggested), then Satan has proven that faith in God is nothing but a sham. Satan wins; God loses.
     Job has no inkling of any of this.
     In 1:13-15, when the Sabeans steal Job's oxen and kill his servants, Job has no idea that Satan is the one behind this.  Ditto for when lightening falls from the sky and destroys Job's sheep plus more of his servants. When his children are taken as well and then he is afflicted from head to toe with boils, it seems  clear to everyone in the book (including Job)  that something out of the ordinary is going on but at that point they conclude, wrongly, that God is the one who is  ripping Job's life to shreds.
    None of them knew about the gauntlet that Satan had thrown down in the Heavenlies or the fact that God, in His wisdom, had decided to take it up.  None of them knew that eventually Job would receive double for everything he lost.   None of them knew that God would be so angry at Job's friends for the "sound" theological advice they gave that He would rise up in anger against them and only Job's intercession would save their hides.   And none of them for sure ever dreamed that several thousand years later, people would still be drawing hope and comfort from this narrative of Job's testing.
   In Luke 18:6-8, Jesus promised that justice would be done for God's chosen people.  But He ends this passage with what almost sounds like a lament to me:  However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?

   It's a good question.  Down through the centuries, Job's answer is, "Yes..."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

One cent burgers... :)

     I try not to write unless I feel like I have something worth saying. But there are exceptions to that rule and this may well be one of them.
    Just now as I was headed to Chick-Fil-A to pick up lunch for us, I suddenly had a flashback to my high school days.  As I've indicated in another blog, money was tight when I was young but we lived pretty well because of my mom's ability to manage money.
   Still, I never ate steak as far as I know - and certainly never had one in a restaurant until I was in college. I remember going out on a date and being totally confused when asked how I wanted my steak cooked - I didn't know!  So I just parroted the order that my date had given, down to the way I wanted my meat cooked and the dressing I wanted on my tossed salad!
   At home, we basically had the same things each week - chili one day, hamburgers another, Spanish Rice another and so on.  And on Spanish Rice days, since the bus dropped me off about an hour before my mom got home from work, it was my job to get that on the stove and have it ready before she got home. So another memory I have is of daydreaming about  a boy - what else back then? :) And consequently forgetting to put the meat in with the rice and the tomatoes and spices.  To this day, I have no idea how I could have forgotten the main ingredient but I did and I assure you that I  still remember the chewing out  I got when my mom got home!  (Let me say that I never made that mistake again!)
   But I've said all that to say this.  Picking up food at places like McDonald's, Burger King, and Chick-fil-a is no big deal to me now and hasn't been for years.  Since I've worked all my adult life, running through the drive-thru was just a way of life - nothing special.
  But when I was in elementary and high school, it was a huge deal.  Even when my parents were still  married, we hardly ever did it.  So much so, that I can remember telling my elementary-age friends on the bus that Burger Broil was a lot better than a new-fangled restaurant with a Scottish name called McDonald's because burgers at McDonald's cost 25 cents a piece while the ones at Burger Broil were 19 cents a piece. (And I probably rounded up those conversations by proudly announcing that our family never went to McDonald's, emphasizing the fact that we weren't frivolous!!!  Some things do come back to haunt you...)
   I can also remember kneeling on the couch in our living room so that I could lean over the back of it and watch through the picture window for dad's car on the rare occasions when we did bring home those awesome 19 cent burgers!!!
   But my main memory is of my high school days, those very tight times when it was just mom and myself living in a mobile home, her working as a social worker and me taking every baby-sitting job I could find to buy extras for myself  such as make-up, stylish clothes, my Senior pictures, etc... the Spanish Rice days :).     During those times, once a week on Thursdays, my mom would run by a restaurant called Black Angus because they ran a special on those days - buy one burger, get another one for 1 cent.  For over a year, she would  pick up two number 1's for me (mustard, pickle, and onion) and two burgers for herself (either barbecue or salad burgers) each and every  Thursday.  To this day I can still remember how those 1.01 burgers tasted and how I looked forward to that every week.  When medical bills began to pile up and they changed the special to buy one, get another one for 25 cents, we had to drop that from our weekly budget and it was no small thing to me at the time.
   I guess I'm just saying, some things really are more valued when they are harder to come by.  Maybe all things are that way.  Now, 40 years later, it's so much easier to get fast food that my main concern at this stage in  life is which one? Which place do I choose?  And often, after I've made my purchase, I feel slightly disappointed because I'm thinking of all the other types of food that I could have had, like I could have  gotten that pizza that I see highlighted in living color on some sign as I'm driving back home with a sack of burgers... Or, there's a Mexican Restaurant right across from the burger place - tacos  would have been good too!
   But really, none of the meals I buy now will ever stand out in my memory as much as those two burgers once a week from Black Angus - not only because they were good, but because they were special.  WE sort of live (or at least I do) in a fast food, throw away, pleasure seeking, have-it-your-way because you-deserve-a-break-today world and yes, life is a lot, lot easier now  than it ever was when I was young - when it comes to cooking/serving meals at least...  But I'm not sure it's better.
   Maybe, after everything is said and done,  it's not a bad thing that our grandparents (or great-grandparents or whatever) had to walk uphill both ways for miles  to get to school :)


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Always a good thing to do...:)

     I worked on my murder mystery yesterday - I'm at the place really where I don't like anything I've written so far  and wouldn't mind killing off all my main characters myself....  After writing some, I went to my home away from home, Lifeway Bookstore, and was just sitting there, looking at a Bible that emphasizes the names of God - I have a real weakness for beautifully bound devotional/study Bibles and I had a 10.00 off coupon - a dangerous combination!
     And while I was sitting there, looking through the Bible, a nicely dressed older gentleman commented on how I was reading a good book.  Then he told me about how someone once had said the same thing to him on a plane  - my new friend had been reading the Bible during the flight and the person seated next to him commented on how he was reading a good book. Then, as they deplaned, one right in front of the other, my new friend turned around to say good-bye to his seatmate and saw the guy had literally vanished. So he felt then and still feels now that his seatmate was an angel.
    So later, after our conversation ended - and he was a neat person to talk to, totally sane as far as I could tell - at any rate, after we finished talking, I'm sitting there still leafing through The Names of God Bible edited by Ann Spangler, thinking how my mystery novel inhales swiftly and wondering why I've never had an encounter with an angel....   Or do angels even hang out with people who spend part of their days plotting how to create someone, then kill them off along with, um, maybe a few others, and so on?
   I don't know.  All I know is that I bought the Bible for my birthday (Phil says I make birthdays soooo easy for him :), fixed spaghetti for supper,  and shelved my novel temporarily because, as Scarlet O'Hara said in such a memorable way, tomorrow is another day (or something like that)
   And really, there are few theological quandaries that can hang around in the face of a pound of un-browned hamburger, a jar of Ragu that needs to be opened, some pasta that is begging to be boiled, a load of laundry that is giving me a guilt trip since yesterday when it should have been done and a kitchen that will need cleaning up later on in the evening.
   And then, finally, when everyone is fed, the house is quiet and the laundry is mollified, a new study Bible to read :) .. which is, whether angels are visibly watching or not, always a good thing to do!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Trying it again...

     The truth is that I just love these pictures and wanted to put them in a blog....
     Last week on Friday I tried to include one of them in a blog about perspectives.  Which was fine then but this is now... Meaning, as I've already indicated, on Friday I was full of gratitude and looking on the bright side.  But perspective comes and goes with me on a daily basis, sometimes an hourly basis.
    HOnestly, that's kind of how it is with me.
   It's discouraging. 
   Then someone pointed out to me that "mature Christian" doesn't mean that you go steadily through each day with no great highs or lows emotionally.  Somehow, I really thought that if I kept reading my Bible, praying, going to church, etc.   that someday my life would be one seamless tapestry along the lines of Melanie in Gone with the Wind.   
   But this person pointed out that calmly floating through life without expressing strong emotions is really.. um... Stoicism - which was a popular philosophy in pagan Rome.  Which isn't exactly Christian...
   So I get that - it's okay to be sad, joyful, even angry on occasion.
   And that cheered me up because those things I definitely can do!
   But there's a catch...  A mature Christian doesn't get torqued because someone got their parking place at the mall.  (Even, as one of my friends said, if you have your blinker on and that person knows good and well that  it's your spot!!!!"  Even then, it's not Biblically  correct to call the interloper ugly names or speculate about their family heritage.  Bummer....)
   This is the deal - true love causes two hearts to beat as one. When we truly love God, our hearts should pitter-pat in sync with His. Which means that His joy is our joy and His grief is ours as well.  In other words, His perspective becomes mine.  
    And honestly, that's going to take a while...
    In the meantime, I love this from the Discover God Bible:
    "Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens   He never changes or casts a shifting shadow."  James 1:17 (Italics mine.)
      Which means "Because God never changes my future is secure and eternal."  p. 2226
      Which means that His perspective never changes and His joys and sorrows are always right on target.  And I think these pictures kind of give that impression.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Getting Real....

    I doubt seriously that there are any days when I am in the running for Super Saint but today I wasn't even close to the starting line...  Yesterday I was grateful that I was alive and looking for the positive in everything.  This morning I read what I had written late last night and decided I wasn't even sure who that person was who wrote it, but whoever they were, they were an idiot. ...
   When I was a kid, my  grandmother used to stare at the wall and announce, "Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed today"   and then if I didn't "get it", she would look pointedly at me to reinforce her message.  I don't know if there even is a wrong side of the bed or not but if there is and if I can remember which side I woke up on this morning, then I can tell you which side to avoid in the a.m. - I can solve that mystery!
    I'd like to be a "good" Christian every day and I'd love to say that the Pollyanna story  I adored as a child (movie, doll and book..) helped shape the woman that I've become. But honestly, some days just inhale vigorously.
   When I was still newly married, I went as an adult sponsor to a church camp in NW Arkansas. As a kid, I had absolutely loved that camp!  As an adult, I absolutely hated it! Tepid to cold water in the showers, which was okay because you couldn't linger anyway unless you liked sharing the cubicle with spiders, which I didn't.  Extraordinarily hot humid days.  Open air lectures at night where mosquitoes reigned supreme.  Kids falling out of bunk beds in the middle of the night. One pay phone (no cell phones) where I stood in line each night with a bunch of twelve-year-olds so that I could call my husband and cry about my homesickness. (The kids in line were stoic or happy. I was the one blubbering, not kidding...)  Teen-agers acting snotty because I wasn't as much fun as their usual camp counselor (I was a last minute pinch-hitter). And on top of that, I had been asked to teach Baptist church history to a bunch of 4th grade boys.  In an open air pavilion.  While my papers flew in every direction and they concentrated on catching whatever wildlife happened to be crawling by.   Try it sometime.  I dare you.
  The last morning I was there, I was trying unsuccessfully to rectify my sleep-deprived state by sleeping in  when I overheard another camp counselor send a kid off to buy me a tee-shirt that said, "I survived camp so and so."  It was a sweet thought but I never got it.  After 4 literally sleepless nights and 5 stressful days, I went on a crying jag that Friday which  lasted through morning devotions, the talent show, and our boxed to-go lunches. (Think Eleanor in the last scene of Sense and Sensibility... Ha!)   To this day, I hope the kids didn't equate my sobbing  with the quality of their performances... Needless to say, the other counselor didn't mention the tee-shirt gift and I didn't either.  I hope someone got it who wore it proudly. As far as I'm concerned, if it didn't have a larger-than-life icon of a  spider on it being carried off by a gargantuan mosquito, it wasn't authentic anyway....
  I also remember how the other counselor in our "dorm" comforted me by saying the same thing she said to the kids.. :(  As she put her arm around me, she said, "Some days are basically just  rotten but the good thing is that once they are done, they are done.  They won't come again and tomorrow is a whole 'nother day."
  It may not be good theology - I'm no expert. But it rang true to me at the time and I've never forgotten it.
  As a famous preacher once rang out, "It's Friday... but Sunday's comin'."  You'd have to hear the whole sermon to know what he meant but basically, he was saying, one dark day, the Son of God hung on a cross -it was Friday.   But Sunday - the day the tomb was found empty with the head wrappings laid aside to show the owner would be coming back - that resurrection Sunday was on it's way, even when the world experienced the worst darkness it had even known -   Sunday was a'comin'.
   Today  wasn't the worst day for me by any means. But still  I have to say, I'm glad that tomorrow is Sunday and also that  this day doesn't have to be repeated.  Some days just inhale swiftly.

(Today, I would have to say this doll was a better person than I, Gunga Din.. .Or something like that).

Monday, September 12, 2011

New needs - new agendas...

     This morning I did water aerobics for the third time; this time without my friend. Since I didn't have anyone coming by to pick me up, it was sooooo tempting not to go.  When I only had 15 minutes to get ready, I finally made up my mind, grabbed my swim bag and headed out.  It was great once I got there- and afterwards I felt  invigorated, ready to face the day.
   Times have soooo changed!!!   I used to face a room full of teenagers in the morning.  This morning, since we were inside the fitness center where the water was not a balmy 70 degrees with wind blowing around us (as it was last week!!!), we had a large class.  The instructor is really personable and knows what she's doing and as she encouraged us to get to know a little about each other, we learned that the youngest member of the class is 34 and the oldest is ...90.  Yep!  Entering her ninth decade and just as happy as she can be...(And it wasn't me, in case you are wondering...=/)
    At any rate, most of the members looked my age or older.  Some a lot older. And as I looked into their faces, at first I thought: is this what I'm going to be like in a few years????  Like, am I going to be wrinkled, frail, white-haired (well, I'm almost there on that one right now.. but still, mine's not permed yet...) -at any rate, am I staring into my future?
   And then as I watched the older ladies, I thought, "I can only hope so!!!"
   What I mean by that is that none of these ladies looked anything but happy. Some of them couldn't move much in the water but they were hanging in there and looking pleased to be able to do what they could. As I looked at their faces, I'm thinking - okay, they've seen a lot of life. Some have probably buried their husbands.  A few may have outlived a child.  Undoubtedly, they've seen both the good and bad side of life.  But their faces reflect the good side of life, not the bad. I can only hope that when I am their age, my face will do the same.
  I also noticed that the ladies were friendly, genuinely interested in each other as well as  in  the newcomers, like me...  There was no territorial stuff going on, no cliquish inclusion/exclusion - well, I do admit - I mean how cliquish can you get in a pool doing jumping jacks,  skiing, the twist,  and washing machines for an hour???? But still...
  Which leads me to another thing - Face Book.  I really love it but...
   It's addicting....
   It's mostly surface stuff...
   And as I heard someone else say, it's pretty much a place to put inside jokes that only a few can get.
  But even more than that, I realized that's it's a place where you can easily get the illusion of having a lot of interactions with people when... you really don't.  For working women, it's great.  You can post something, look at what your friends have posted and in just a few seconds, you are up to speed on what's going on with Susie's son or Joanie's new business...
  For a retired person, it may not be so great.  One of the things I've already noticed in my short time as a retired person is that I'm more satisfied in some ways.  I don't want to shop as much and I enjoy being at home.   But at the same time, since I don't have to be anywhere, I have to make myself get out and do things. This will undoubtedly become harder as the days get shorter and colder.  It would be really easy for me to sit and peruse FB off and on  all day  - as I have been known to do in the summer - and avoid meeting new people, doing new things, getting out there and interacting on more than just a surface level.
  And I just can't stay in that pattern.  Humor comes across great on FB but what if you need real feedback? Most of what I see on FB are positive cliches, one-liners, etc. And that's great for what it does.  But it's not real life.  What if I need someone to tell me I'm doing something wrong?  Are they even going to in-box me that information?  Probably better to say it face to face if they really care about me.  And if I am  doing something I shouldn't - like unwittingly being neglectful of someone or being irritable without knowing it - how will anyone pick up on it if they don't see me day to day? I can be in a totally foul mood and never give a hint of it on FB, I promise!   Or if everyone else's kid is being tagged on FB as the cutest, the funniest, the smartest, the most polite, am I likely to post on FB that my kid and I are having a day when seriously, neither one of is the cutest, the funniest, the smartest or the most polite..?? Like, we're having a day when all of our awards would seriously go in the opposite direction???
   So I'm just saying that being at the Fitness Center is good for me. I need to be around people and from what I've seen of the ladies in my class, I can learn a lot by following the example of some of the older ladies whose faces reflect joy and contentment, not bitterness and misery.  And I guess I'm also saying that I have my task in front of me - to make myself get out and do things, interact with others in real life - and limit my time on FB. Because this is where I am now - a new stage of life with new needs and agendas, if that makes sense.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ten on the Tenth

Although 9/11 is on my mind right now, I want to write about something else for Ten on the Tenth.  Tomorrow I will get the privilege of sitting in with three neat teen-age girls after church for homemade pizza and some after-church discussion.  I have been thinking about what I would like for them (and every teen-age girl) to know - really know, deep down inside.  And this is what came to mind.

1.  I would like for them to know that self-image really, really does count.  Of all my friends in college, the one who was really the most beautiful and the sharpest, didn't finish college.  No matter what we said or did, she was honestly convinced that she was ugly and slow-witted. She had grown up hearing this and she didn't doubt it.  When she would comment on how ugly she was, she wasn't fishing for compliments; she was just calling it the way she saw it.  Sadly, she married the first guy who asked her and pretty much told us that she thought he would make a good husband even though he didn't love her.  We were stunned - we knew she could have had anyone she wanted.  But she didn't know that.  Self-image counts.

2.  Having said that, I would like for each girl to know that she is made  "in an amazing and wonderful way."  Not my words.  Psalms 139:14.  The Psalmist went on to write "You saw my bones being formed as I took shape in my mother's body.  When I was put together there, you saw my body as it was formed.  All the days planned for me were written in your book before I was one day old."  Society today saturates young girls with unrealistic images of what they should be.  God is pleased with His work and that includes every one of His girls. I think knowing this would take a lot of pressure off.

3. I also think that every girl wants to be cherished.  Zephaniah 3:17 is about Israel but I think it is also true of how God looks at His children.  ".. .He will rejoice over you.  You will rest in his love; He will sing and be joyful about you."  When things are going wrong, someone snubs you at school, or even worse, gossips about you openly. When you don't have a boyfriend and everyone else does, the God of the universe knows your name, has His eye on you and is rejoicing over you.  Problems at school and in your love-life come and go. His love remains constant. Every-single-day, you-are-loved!!!!

4. I also think that when someone hurts you, God gets ticked.    Psalm 17:8 says, "Guard me as the apple of your eye." I once heard Beth Moore say that when someone hurts one of His children, that's like poking God right in His eyeball.  Do you think He could ignore that??  If you get hurt, even if it's because you used poor judgement and made a bad choice, He doesn't take your pain lightly and He won't forget. The Bible says that He stores our tears in a bottle and I'm thinking that you don't keep something unless A) it's precious to you and B) you plan to do something about  it later on. God has stored every one of your tears and sooner or later, He will do something about it.

5.  Which leads me to the next point I want to make. You are not the sum total of your choices.   Someone not too long ago reminded me of the analogy of the dollar bill.  The story goes like this:  if you take a dollar bill and crumple it, stomp on it, rub it in the dirt, etc., it's intrinsic value remains the same.  It's still worth a dollar.  Your intrinsic value comes from God who made you. Wrong choices don't change your worth. They may make life harder but they don't change who you are deep inside.  If you make a bad decision, you are still the same person you were before you messed up.  Pick yourself up, remind yourself of who you are (and Whose you are) and go right  back to where you were before you fell. Don't stay down. Reclaim the  higher ground.

6.  Which leads to the next point, which is that we have an enemy who is described by John as the Father of all lies. Not a cool title to have, I wouldn't think.   Too many times, when you make a wrong choice - whether it's large or small in nature - the enemy is right there, ready to  whisper lies such as - "You are stupid. You'll always be stupid.   Now everyone knows you are stupid (bad, ugly, tactless, etc.   - the enemy has a ton of adjectives!!! He could pass Senior English, no problem...)  Now the good kids won't want to hang out with you.  And if your parents find out, you are toast...  So whatever you do, don't tell them!"  But the thing is, I don't like to be lied to. And I'm sure you don't either. In John 8, Jesus promised that if we would study His word, we would know the truth.  The Bible is like a radar that picks up on lies. Like a lint filter picks up on lint.   Try it and see. It's important that you know the truth and that you don't fall for lies.

7.  Which leads to the next point.  The Bible says that we all experience the same temptations - nothing that comes your way is new.  If everyone is tempted in various ways to mess up, then you are not the first or the last to fall for some lie. But the Bible also says says that He will make a way of escape in order to help you out of the tempting spot you are in if you will turn to Him for help.  Bottom line: if you think you are the only one who has messed up  - again whether it is large or small - think again.  Most people don't write their mess-ups in neon letters on billboards. Or on Facebook for that matter.  And if you ask God to help you each day before the  temptation comes to gossip, compare yourself unfavorably to other girls, worry, cheat on homework or whatever, He will help you dominate from the git-go!

8.  Which leads me to the last point.  What do you want out of life?  These are a few of the  things God offers.  First, He offers joy.  Not any joy.  But the joy that wells up within Himself - His own  joy!!!  John 15:11 says that He  wants to see His own  joy come to completion in you. Do you want to laugh, sing, dance for joy? Whether you realize it or not, God wants the same for you!!

9.  What do you want out of life?  A boring, settled-for life or life in all it's fullness?  When I was a teen, we used to hear about how sometimes people would refuse to surrender their lives to God because He might make you go to Africa as a missionary or something.  First, He'll ask you to follow His plan for your life, whatever that might be - but I don't think He makes you follow His plan...  Second, let's say you consider Africa the worst thing He could ask you to do and ... darn it.. that's what He lays on your heart.  Hmmmmm.... some of the most exciting stories I've ever read are about people who follow Christ to exotic lands and find themselves doing what they've always wanted to do... even if they didn't know it when He first called them!!  So look at older people who were once  afraid to surrender to Him - and didn't.  Then look at people who weren't - and did.  Talk to them. Ask them if they had a chance for do-overs, would they take it. You might be surprised by their answers. Whatever you do, read John 10:10.

10.  Soo...what do you want out of life? ?? God offers a lot.  We'll look at one more: light for the next step -  which college, which job, whether to break-up or not to break-up, whether to date or not date, whether to marry... you get the picture.  Basically, in James 1, God promises to give you wisdom. And it even says He'll give generously and without reproach if you just ask in faith.  So if you know Jesus, ask Him to give you wisdom. And keep asking and  waiting and asking...  until He gives you the answer.  AFter all, He's the only one who can see into the future. So His advice counts!!!

There are so many other things He offers but ....I've run out of numbers... My Ten on the Tenth is done. If you wonder what else He promises, read the Bible, get out your promise book, take Him at His word.

Friday, September 9, 2011


     Twenty-one years ago today, our son was born.   We thought we knew a lot about parenting. We quickly learned that we knew nothing. He had food allergies and at times we couldn't decide if we should submit his picture to the Gerber baby contest or as a poster child for colic.  At one point, as a precaution, he was on a heart monitor. When the technician brought it out and showed us how to use it, he lamented the fact that one couple had poured coke into one of their expensive  machines and ruined it.  AFter several false alarms in the middle of the night, I understood why...
     Honestly, I don't even remember Fall that year.  I remember having David on Sept. 8th, after eating (yes, I will admit it) a tuna sandwich and a chocolate bar for breakfast.  (For expectant mothers about to deliver, in case you are wondering - this isn't a good idea.)  The next thing I remember is calling a friend about 5 days later and crying hysterically.  Thankfully, she and her mother-in-law came over with food and words of advice.  Basically, I thought I had experienced stress and sleep deprivation in college... but as a new mom,  I quickly realized that in these things,  I was but  a piker...
    I also remember going to a pediatrician (after another sleepless night) and blurting out, "Some people have more than one of these on purpose... and I don't know why!!!"  (I never felt like I was a favorite with the doctor after that initial visit.  Could have been my imagination but...)
   Basically, Sept. to Dec. of that year was a blur.  And in fact, my only memory of Christmas that year was standing by the tree and  ringing a little bell on it because it was enough to momentarily distract him from crying. Needless to say, I rang that bell a lot, with David nestled in the crook of my arm or draped over my shoulder.
  When we reached the sixth month anniversary of his birth - we hit a milestone. He slept all night and I don't know if the angels rejoiced over that but we sure did!!!
   Yet in all those sleepless, anxious, debt-ridden days, I don't think that we ever doubted David was God's gift to us.  (Sometimes we wondered if He had made a mistake and delivered the gift to the wrong house since we were so clueless as parents...)  No matter how many times we looked at each other at 11 p.m. and tried to stare the other one down  as to who would get up this time  and tiptoe into the nursery to stealthily wind up the Winnie-the-Pooh mobile - an art in and of itself - we would still find ourselves stopping to  marvel at his soft cheeks, his tiny feet, his sweet  smile. Even after the first hectic weeks had retreated into memory and he was a toddler, we'd still sneak into his room at night to watch him sleep - he always looked so angelic!
   And then there were the days when he would want to go jogging around the block with me and we'd have discussions about, "You can't keep up with mommy!  Stay here with Daddy and then I'll take you for a walk later on!"  But inevitably, I'd take him and then.. I'd end up carrying him most of the way.
   Times have changed. Just yesterday, I wanted to carry some books to my sister-in-law's house.  They were pretty heavy so I asked David if he would walk with me and carry them.  He did and half-way through the journey, it dawned on me that he was striding along effortlessly while I was struggling to keep up with him!
   A lot has changed since Sept. 8, 1990!  I know David has grown up and is now a young man. But truthfully, as I look back over those first months and years, I think Phil would agree that we did more "growing up" than David  did!  For the first time, we had someone whose needs absolutely had to come before our own and that was good for us.
   Bottom line: I think he taught us a lot more than we ever taught him!
   Sept. is a great month and 21 years ago, we got a great gift in our son, David.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

For my friends who are hurting...

I found this  helpful. It is a quote from The One-Year Wonder of the Cross Devotional by Chris Tiegreen.
Sept. 3
   "... The good news of salvation is traumatic.  New life begins in pain. Always.
    Think about that.  Jesus suffered on a cross to give us life.  The Spirit convicts us  of our sins - and often subjects us to futility and despair - before we come to Christ.  The mission of Jesus involves intense, prayer, hard work, and spiritual opposition before bearing fruit...
    That is the dynamic Paul and Silas embraced in a Philippian prison.  Because they were faithful, an unjust imprisonment, a violent earthquake, chaos among criminals, and a suicidal guard led to a family's salvation and a citywide testimony.  The conduit for grace is often despair...
   If you became a Christian thinking that life would be easy, you may be disillusioned by the war you entered.  As a believer, you have probably encountered counterfeits, injustices, and chaos, and wondered why God was absent. The answer from Acts 16 is that He isn't. In fact, He is never more present.  He allows desperate times as a platform for His grace. All He asks is for His servants to seize the platform..."

Chris also has a book called Violent Prayer, Engaging your Emotions Against Evil.   In the Fall of 2009, basically from August 09  to  Feb. 2010., we often felt pressed to the wall. Those of you who know us, know what we went through with the meth house next door and the people selling who lived just on the other side of the meth house.  It was just really bad - screaming and cussing late at night. Erratic driving at odd hours. A couple of times there was gunfire close by late at night and I had to call our son and ask him to postpone coming home from his friend's house until things settled down.  During this time, someone apparently got into our mail and got enough information to forge a check for 600.00 on our account and that was hard to straighten out.  We also had minor vandalism done to our property after going to the police about the check forgery. At times we were stunned.  During this period, I got Tiegreen's book on prayer and started reading it.  One of the things that he recommended was to  pray boldly for things that you know are in God's will.
    For instance, we know that the Lord's prayer in Matthew tells us to honor God and then to ask that His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.  He went on to say that we know it isn't God's will for people to be shooting drugs into their veins, etc and so we don't have to wonder if it's right to ask that God show up strongly against this type of behavior and bring His kingdom principles to reign in such a situation.  So we began to pray that God's will would be done in the  lives of the people next door and that God's will would also be done on the piece of property  they owned - the same way that it would be if that land were in Heaven.  As Chris says, this is not a magic formula - it's just one way of praying.  However, in this case, we found it to be effective.
    We started praying this way in November and in February the house next door was seized.  It had been used for drug activity off and on since 2001 and there had been several arrests for cooking meth over the ensuing years. But for some reason, the house was never taken.   And then in the fall of 2009, things just seemed to be spiraling down into an endless vortex that would never get better.  As bad as things had been over there from time to time, it had never been like this and we felt pretty hopeless, wondering where it would all end.  We had no idea that  within a few short months, the violence and illegal activity would be  completely gone. And 12 months later, the house itself would be gone (in spite of the fact that the city said it would take 6 to 8 years to get around to cleaning the property ups).
    Sometimes, when things look the bleakest, it is true that God is about to step in and act. And while Praying Violently may seem like a weird title, the principles in it are sound.  The example I've given of how to pray is just one from the book - there are others.
   Prayer is supposed to be our first resort in times of trouble. Sometimes, when everything is unraveling, it is our only resort. We have an enemy and he knows for sure what he is doing. Sometimes it helps if we also know what we are doing when things start to spiral and chaos ratchets up in our lives.  We don't mind reading (and applying new  ideas)  about how to improve our garden, remodel our house, restore our marriage, improve our financial investments, etc.
  But maybe we balk at reading and applying a book on prayer. Maybe it sounds boring. Maybe we feel we don't need it. All I know is that when I thought things would never be better, this book gave me a prayer rope to hold onto. And I'm convinced praying effectively, Biblically makes a difference.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


       Woke up at 4 a.m. with one of those dreams that doesn't quite make sense but leaves you wide awake.  Tripped over the trash can in the dark while trying to get to the bathroom.  Went back to bed where a host of "things-to-do" and "things-to-worry-about" came parading through my mind - why does that always happen in the wee hours of the morning????
      So now the dogs and I are up. Well ..... I'm up.  Even the rat terriers have gone back to sleep, leaving me alone at the keyboard.
      Soooo.... what am I grateful for?
     For one thing, I'm grateful that I don't have to go to work today. :)  :)  :)  (I'm pretty useless on just a few hours sleep...)
     For another, I'm grateful that we had a perfect Labor Day yesterday - blue skies, light breeze, moderate temperatures, hint of Fall in the air.  In my book, that is the perfect day, bar none!
     I'm grateful that even if the meatloaf I made yesterday doesn't exactly look like the picture on the recipe, everyone still liked it.
     I'm grateful, as our friend Yetty used to say, that it was not our portion to wake up this morning sick or in the hospital. And that as high as gas is, I can still afford to fill up the tank.
    I'm grateful that Phil and I  are approaching our 25th anniversary. (Nov. 22, 1986).   I think that's special in any time but maybe especially so in this day and age.  I hope all the young married couples that I know can say the same 25 years down the road.
    I'm grateful for all the work Phil did re-modeling the bathroom - and also for the fact that most of it is working now:).
    I'm grateful that God is running the world so I can lay that job down for the moment  ;)
    I'm grateful that I have choices to make - that I can choose what I wear, what I eat, what I want to do today.  Many don't have that luxury, their lives being severely restricted by poverty and sometimes  also culture.
   I'm grateful that the noisy neighbors  down the street are..... down the street!  And not next door!   (Well... it's true... I am grateful for that!  Although I'd be even more grateful if they preferred to blast music from the 70's from their audio system...)
   And I'm grateful that being grateful takes the sting out of weird dreams at 4 in the morning...  

Monday, September 5, 2011

What it's all about...

     Something in my heart has changed.  I don't know how long it will last but I hope it's permanent.
     All my life, I've lived in the Bible belt and for most of my life, I've been a state employee and fairly conscious of what is politically correct and what isn't. Plus, my basic temperament is such that I hate to hurt anyone or cause any type of conflict.  And  all those things are still true.
    But during our two weeks overseas, some things changed for me.  It's taken me a couple of more weeks to process it all and I may still be processing it for some time to come.  Basically, I lived among a people who are smart as a whole, energetic, hard-working, and outspoken.  Very generous and very family oriented.  But not the Bible belt.  I didn't hear Amazing Grace being sung on every street corner, so-to-speak and at times I felt called on to defend my faith, which I think I did very badly.  I was not prepared.  I think I know quite a bit of the Bible but I wasn't able to apply it at critical times.  As I've already indicated, being at Yad Vashem was tough, as I knew it would be but I had no idea that my faith would take a nose dive momentarily as I looked at one wall after another of larger-than-life cruelty on a scale I've never seen personally and never hope to see.  On a much lesser note, sometimes traffic in Tel Aviv was scary - even when we were on a huge tourist bus.  There were some times in traffic when my heart was in my throat and I was praying every second, literally.
   And then there were times of acute homesickness.  I loved being with my sister, getting to see unusual sites in Haifa, Jerusalem, and Caeserea - so many opportunities that I hope will come again but which, realistically, may not.  So I tried to savor those moments as much as possible.  But simply put, I really missed my husband.  We'd never been separated for more than a week and sometimes I would tear up after a long day of site-seeing when I'd just hear his voice over the phone.  At those times, when I was tired and he was just a dis-embodied voice coming from 6,000 miles away, I could momentarily bottom out.  I just missed him. Seriously.
   And I missed church.  I just wanted at times to be with a group of believers. No, that's not accurate. I wanted to be at my church, to be sitting in my Sunday School class or to be in the balcony listening to our pastors and singing songs that I know by heart.
  The Bible and a Corrie Ten Boom book, Jesus is Victor, were a tremendous help.  But when I was too tired to understand what I was reading or too weak to have faith - as at Yad Vashem - I literally felt the presence of God. What I'm saying the best I know how is that, at critical times, I failed Him. But He didn't fail me.
  I first believed in Christ when I was 8 and I've been in church all my life.  I probably should be acutely aware every day of how Jesus saved me from the power of sin and from eternal separation from God.  But honestly, I'm not.  It's been so many years since I first understood and felt the fear of dying without Him that I don't spend my days being grateful for what He did on the cross for me.
  And because I've always been in church and I'm what Corrie ten Boom would call a "decent sinner" (meaning I haven't murdered anyone, cheated on my spouse, etc. ) I can "get it" that I'm not perfect but inside I can feel like I'm pretty darn good, like I'm reading my Bible, trying to help others at times, trying to follow the teachings of the Bible...  And inside I may be thinking actually about how much better I am than so-and-so over here or how  I deserve for God to do x,y,z for me b/c I'm basically a "good girl".
  But over there, in a heated discussion about faith, I was not a "good girl".  I was offended and to my surprise, gave as good as I got, trading insult for insult.  (I guess the school teacher came out in me!) That night, as I lay in bed going back and forth between nursing my sense of grievances and  confessing my sins, God brought a verse to mind that I would never have thought of in a million years.  As I lay there, these words flowed through my mind and heart:  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake...   (II Cor. 12:10)  I don't ever remember memorizing that particular verse although it's possible that I did hide it in my heart back when I was in my twenties. But I really doubt that I did  it even back then - it's just never been a favorite of mine.   As soon as the words began to filter through my mind, I understood that God was convicting me.  Intellectually, I knew that He was telling me I had not been willing that day to graciously accept an insult or two for His sake.   But the amazing thing was that while I was being convicted, I felt nothing but total love, total acceptance.  Acceptance like I can't ever remember experiencing before.  Ever.
     He brought me through all of that - the culture shock, the tiredness, the homesickness, the times of doubt and discouragement. (And here again, He didn't have to bring me through the many good times! Please keep that in mind!)  And by He, I mean Jesus.  He brought me through my fears and touched my heart when no  one else could.  When I was scared, I didn't care, honestly, if it was pc to plead the blood of Christ. I just silently did it and if the traffic had gotten any worse, I probably would have done it out loud!
    This morning I was reading in John 1, NLT.  And in the margin I started listing all the things that Jesus is:
   1. He is the Word.
   2.  He is eternal - existed in eternity past.
   3.  He is the creator - everything was created by Him.
   4.  He is the life-giver.
   5.  He brings light to me.
   6.  He is stronger than the darkness in the world and He always will be.
   7.  He is acquainted with rejection. (Also in Isaiah 53).
   8.  He is the One who gives us the right to call God "Abba".
   9.  He is God who took on flesh so that He could live and walk among us.
And then I got to this verse (1:14b).   He was full of unfailing  love and faithfulness.
   And I thought, "No, He is full of unfailing love and faithfulness."  And He showed me that every day of my trip and has been with me every day since as I sort through the many memories and impressions.
   What would the trip have been like without Him?
   And what do I owe Him?
   Ask me and I'll tell you.  For me, it's not about being pc anymore.   It's about a real and living Jesus who made all the difference in my life and continues to do so.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Loving Sept....

     I don't know that I really have anything to say... but I don't think that's ever stopped me from saying it :)  When I was in my early 20's, it was commonly accepted  that it wasn't the quantity of time that you spent with your children but rather the quality of the time.  The idea was that if the mom had a meaningful job and felt fulfilled, then the time she spent with her children after work would be higher quality than if she stayed at home.  When I was young (and before I had our son), I never questioned the truth of that.
   And I don't think I could have had a more meaningful job than teaching young people. And there were perks that went with that job for me as a mom.  I got to spend summers with our son and we also had the same vacations during the school year, even the same snow days which were exciting for both of us!  It was always (or nearly always ;)  a joy for me to see our  son walk into my classroom at the end of the day and once he graduated from high school, that was the first thing that hit me - I'd never see him routinely walk into my room to tell me about his school day.  And I really missed that; still count it a privilege that I had those times with him and I'm sure I always will.
   Also, when he got to high school, I loved it that I actually knew some of the kids that were in his sophomore class.  I really enjoyed taking them to McDonald's after school or helping them in other ways.  (David's sophomore year I was driving my husband's little pick-up truck and the kids started calling it the clown car because when we would return to school for after-school practices or jobs, by-standers would be amazed at how many teen-age boys just kept piling out of that tiny cab!!!  And then there were the times when it would backfire for no reason and David would literally slide down in his seat until he was hidden from view, saying, "I'm not here...")
  But overall, as  this past August gives way to Sept., I have to say that there is a sweetness about staying home. I may get bored before it's over with but right now, I love not having to concentrate on 40 things at once.  When it's time to fix supper, I can just fix supper... I don't have school issues on my mind as well. I don't even have to worry about getting a load of clothes done so that I'll have school clothes  to wear the next day! And even though David is basically grown, I find myself wanting to spend more time with him, feeling more relaxed when I do talk with him.  And now my conversation is mostly about what I've read in a book or what I've  seen on the internet, not how this kid at school got on my last nerves or how this new directive from the powers that be is driving me crazy...
   As I said, in time this feeling may also wane and I may be looking for greener pastures. But right now I'm just grateful.  And just saying to the young moms today who have a lot more on their shoulders than I ever did at their age, if there is any way you can stay at home with your kids, you might find it to be more of a blessing than you think.  Again, it's not for every mom - I understand that.  And for moms like myself, financially it just never was an option for me to stay at home so this is definitely not a guilt trip that I'm trying to lay on someone's shoulders.  I am just saying that right now, I can definitely see the sweetness of being a stay-at-home mom.