Saturday, April 26, 2008

Thin, Old and Aching--What a Goal

Gary and I are both recuperating after a day out in the yard. He mowed lawns and dug out dandelions while I tore the flower bed in the front up trying to get the grass out; we both worked also at pruning the plum tree, which is a bit beyond our abilities and the reach of our ladder. My flower bed is such that I stand on the big shovel, and it doesn't penetrate the compacted roots of ground cover and grass combined that have intertwined so well over the last five years. I have to jump a few times on the shovel to make it go through. Then I tear the clump apart to retrieve the useful plants and tear out the weeds. It's slow work, and my forearms have had it for the day! But I love the spring season when after a long time of hanging around indoors and doing less-strenuous things, I can max it out pretty readily in the yard. I hope it hasn't reached the point where a few times of maxing out yard work will only cause things like bursitis instead of muscles that can go the mile.
There's more to do here than we can do; I look forward to the day that we can sell this and buy something more manageable--which doesn't loom soon enough for me. It seems that we're maxing out at an earlier point, with less accomplished, than we used to. We're going to have to get a low-maintenance yard and house next time, something we can stay in and not have to hire it all done for us. Age is an ever-more motivating factor.
There was one reward for it all, aside from the still-disassembled flowerbed: even though it was afternoon when I stopped to take a shower, I weighed myself. Even with all my walking, and not eating wheat or chocolate, my weight hadn't budged lower than one particular stubborn number for months. Today it was finally lower than it has been since probably 9 or 10 years ago! (Well, I shouldn't hold my breath. I weigh myself at night and think, "Hot dog! Tomorrow morning I should drop a couple pounds and get there!" And then the next morning, get this: I weigh more than when I went to bed at night. I don't think I'm sleep-walk-feasting, either. Breathing makes me gain weight. Sigh.) Still, today was a sign of hope, and I hope, I hope, I hope...maybe it will be the start of another decline in the numbers! I may just be an old lady with a clean yard and bursitis, but I'll be a thinner old lady with a clean yard and bursitis!

Our Circumstances don't Determine God's Goodness

Last night we had our friend Art over for dinner. He was discussing his diabetes equipment with Gary, who's now selling these things. His wife had just gone off to a women's retreat, and so feeding the guy who's fending to an extent for himself seemed the natural thing. We used to attend the same church, and so through these types of visits we get the occasional update, a little peek into the lives of those we knew so well before. But last night we got distressing news in this regard.
While we were still at that church, Andrew, a wonderful man in his 20s who has a wife Grace and two young children started sharing prayer requests about a sore in his mouth; when he went to get it examined, one thing led to another, and it turned out he had mouth cancer. He hadn't smoked, or had his teeth bleached (that was one of the questions asked him), and there was just no clear explanation. The cancer was unusual for his age, for someone who had never smoked. He had some of his tongue removed, had chemo and radiation therapy, and after a while regained his speech. While this whole episode clearly challenged the couple, it never shook their faith in God, and I'm sure it was a testimony to friends, relatives and medical staff.
They moved back to their hometown once their lives stabilized, and I'm glad they're where they want to be, near family. He has now gone through another surgery in his throat because the cancer has come back, in a scattered form, and the doctors aren't sure whether or where it might show up again. They're looking at more radiation and chemotherapy. I read their blog last night. He spoke of how people said it was not fair for him to get this cancer; his response was that no, it wasn't fair, and then enumerated many great things that God had provided in his life, including his faith--and that no, he didn't deserve those good things. I wish I had the words to express how I am so thankful for their solid faith, the knowledge that this doesn't mean that God was ever less than good, that He ever meant anything for evil. He allows this for His sovereign purposes, and as horrible as it is, they are going through it to His glory. Psalm 55:23 says, Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.
It seems there is always someone to challenge, to ask "Where is your God now?" I remember a woman asking me that after we lost a baby a number of years back. I hope that she understood just how much I came to know God's goodness better through it all. I know I was in His extremely loving hands all through that time, and our little girl is in His hands evermore, who is more capable of loving her than I am. It is no doubt in part for the sake of the people who look on and wonder where our God is, that we must at times go through the things that would make others question His very existence and His goodness. Please pray for Andrew and Grace, for their family as they go through this.
God is good, there is no darkness in Him at all. It is not something we will in this life be capable of fully understanding, why He lets these things happen; I like to think we might come to see it in heaven, but even if we don't, we can trust Him. 1 John 1:5 says that This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.

Friday, April 25, 2008

I Have a New Walking, Talking Companion

I've been walking for the last while every night with our neighbor Sandra. It's a good way to get exercise in without going far from home. She saw me occasionally when I was walking in our cul-de-sac and asked whether we could go together; I go around 7 times if I want what I consider a complete exercise "routine"--and round the same cul-de-sac that many times on your own can be quite routine, though I used the time on my own to pray and ponder and plan. It's probably shorter than we walk on the Centennial Trail, where we were trying to go as a family whenever the weather would encourage us, but the Centennial Trail is much flatter and straighter and doesn't have all the driveways and mailboxes (and garbage and recycling bins) to contend with, so in a way it's a whole different outing. (And we never have bicyclists speeding by, either! Ha! ) So nightly she calls me, or I call her, and we get going. Sometimes her daughter has come with us, and more often Tim comes, sometimes using his scooter, and often going back into the house to pick up or drop off something.
Now, with Sandra, it's a good time to reflect and talk; I get some ideas and share some with her, and things come back from the day as I review it that I otherwise would have forgotten. She has a 10-year-old girl who goes to public school, so I get a little bit of a window into what would be going on in Tim's life were he there too--such as the WASL testing that they just finished. It's amazing how much we have to talk about even though our lives are so much different! She's a lawyer, doesn't like her job but would probably never consider quitting. And I know from her daughter's playtimes at our house, she at 7 years old had already assumed that she will be a working mother someday as well. In spite of our differences, we have enough in common that we can discuss and appreciate each other's points of view.
We discuss parenting, grandparents, life expectancies, birthdays, illnesses, doctors, cures, school buses, vacations, college, property values, church (she goes to a little old church here in Marysville, we go to a little old church in Granite Falls), friends, growing pains, exercise,'s amazing just how much there is for discussion. I'm thankful to have her to go walking with; she gets me to go when I otherwise wouldn't. We've only missed one night, when both of us were too exhausted to consider it. I never know in advance what we'll discuss, it's sort of serendipitous. That's part of the fun of it! And then I come in, and Gary will ask something like, "Is she enjoying her new car?" Well, I never thought to ask it; there were too many more interesting topics. I guess he'll have to go walking with her husband some day, and when he comes back in, I'll ask him, "What color shirt was he wearing?" Thing is, Gary's more observant and will probably be able to tell me, and he'll miss the whole intended jab.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I Love Those Who Love Me, Pretty Much...But If They Don't?

Just yesterday I was e-mailing a friend and telling her why I didn't think I could paint with her on Sunday. I'm just too exhausted after church! It's strange that a few hours of church could so wipe me out, but it does. Last Sunday, toward the time we were almost ready to go home, I was realizing how jittery, kind of hyperactive, I felt, and it wasn't until about a half-hour of being home that it calmed down--and then I slept. I don't think it was just the coffee; I'd only had two cups, and I'm used to more. I think it was the excitement of seeing so many people who have become, or are becoming, friends in the church-family sense of the word. I love it! It's the highlight of my week, every time.
God's been working on me in relationships, probably most of all in our marriage, which came through some kind of rough spots especially for the first number of years (and held together pretty much entirely by God's grace!). I've been pondering that a bit lately. It would seem the obvious thing, but just lately I've been able to articulate to myself, "Self," so to speak, "if marriage is 'until death do us part,' no matter how we're feeling any particular day, we should make the best possible, most enjoyable thing of every day--then for the rest of our lives, we'll both be more content, and our relationship will more reflect that of Christ and the Church." Well, that wasn't too earthshakingly profound that I shouldn't have figured that out 25 years back (except that I didn't know Christ)...and I'm not sure whether I can really get the thought entirely into words...still, I think just putting it into my own words (inadequate though they may be) with my own brain in my own terms made it more real and pertinent and practicable. It's a good thing! It wasn't that we were being so horrible to one another (well, perhaps at times...), but we weren't the best we could be, and it was as much my fault as anything. I can be so prideful, and that's the last thing a marriage needs on either side! It could well have been our study in Ephesians and its description of marriage reflecting Christ and the Church that guided me in my renewed thought. Last Sunday, too, the visiting pastor spoke well on marriage from that passage, and gave many helpful insights.
It's true in friendships, too. Many of mine have gone by the wayside just because I didn't exactly pour myself into them. I guess you can only pour yourself so many directions and you start becoming a tiny trickle everywhere--but I do regret losing track of a number of friendships thanks to their moving away, or our changing churches, and my not pursuing communications with them. I'm not sure what the solution is when time is so at a premium. Still, time is valuable to everyone, and spending a little time on communication speaks volumes to the recipient. "Self, pursue those friends that have moved away." Maybe my little self-talk there will do some good; I should do the best with what I've been given, and when I don't think I have, I have some renewal-making to set myself doing! At least that should be enjoyable enough!
(Now isn't this something. Tim comes down from upstairs, and says out of the blue, "Why haven't we had the Gardners over?" Some friends from two churches back, who live about 3 or 4 miles away, who we've pretty much lost contact with--had them over about 5 years ago, and not since, though there's no reason not to except that time issue. The Lord works in strange this a sign?)
Not only friendships. All relationships. Relatives. I have to say when things get prickly with them, which they have readily enough, especially since we don't share the same faith, I just tend to retract and say no more. I need to improve there as well. It shows that I generally love those who love me (especially if they live nearby), and I don't very much love those who don't love me (Mt 5:43-48) reminds me of a poem from my English Literature class in college, by George Wither. (I think actually it has its healthy aspects in dealing with people; it's regarding a man who finds a woman attractive, but when she doesn't return the favor, he says this:)
Shall I wasting in despair
--Die because a woman's fair
Or my cheeks make pale with care,
Because another's rosie are?
Be she fairer than the day,
Or the flowery meads of May,
If she be not so to me,
What care I how fair she be?

I tend to take the same tack if people don't see much merit in me--I so readily just dismiss them; after all, there are plenty of others to turn my focus upon. To an extent it's a reasonable thing to do, maybe the only reasonable thing; but with some relationships, such as relatives, I think maybe I give up too readily--since God has ordained that we will forever be related, likely to see each other at least at weddings and funerals, and if never in between--isn't that a dismally poor kind of relationship! "Self, do something to pursue the broken relationships with relatives." Sigh.

So, going to church and seeing so many lovely people just right there face to face, generally agreeable and sweet, my heart just bursts with anticipation at going there for worship and easy, wonderful fellowship. Who could not enjoy partaking of that? Perhaps I have the heart of a little kid, or a puppy. After church, I'm exhausted, and I need a nap. It is, after all, a day of rest.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Being a Christian is a Way to Get Rich Quick!

Okay, I know after reading the title many who know me, if they read this, would say, "Oh, no, Connie's really gone haywire, become an apostate!" And they'll either think they always knew it would happen eventually or, my friends, that they can't believe I'd ever do that. Well, read on.
I know that there are a lot of Bible verses about answered prayer that when I was a new Christian, I would have thought applied totally differently than how I view them now.
Matthew 18:19 "Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven."
Matthew 21:21-22 And Jesus answered and said to them, "Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive."
Mark 11:24 "Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you."
John 14:13-14 "Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it."
John 15:7 "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you."
John 15:16 "You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you."
John 16:23 "In that day you will not question Me about anything Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you."
James 1:5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him."
1 John 3:22 "...and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight."
Wow. I know I might have lacked the faith or the audacity to ask some of the things that I might have wanted, but if the truth were known, I'm sure I daydreamed about what God might give me if I asked Him: to pay off our house, to move us to a better house, to fill our bank account with good things, to give us lots of friends and approval of the people around us, that we'd have a nice car...the list could go on and on, and it was for the most part material and selfish desires, the trappings that we all pursue too readily; I bet most people relate to that whole thinking, either in the present or in their past.
Sometimes Tim will tell me things like, "You know what I would wish for if I was given one wish?" Now, tell me you didn't answer the same thing when you were a kid as he does: "That I'd get a thousand more wishes!" or some similar thing. I remember doing the same thing. It's a common theme. The genie in the bottle. What a dream world that seems like it would be!
God works so much differently than a genie in a bottle. When we first come into His kingdom, we don't really understand His will, His desires, what it means to abide in Him and to have Him abide in us. He doesn't come to nod and wiggle his nose and make our wishes come true. It isn't that He will never answer our material types of prayers; in fact, yes, I have prayed them and yes, sometimes He has answered yes in an amazing "Abba, Father" type of provision for His child. But it's not the typical and primary way He seems to deal with our wants, at least not that I've generally seen. No, He changes our focus, gives us new desires, aligns us gradually with His will, and as we come to know these things, we can be assured that He will hear our prayers that are in line with His will.
Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. I remember hearing once that God doesn't generally fill the existing desires of our hearts; He aligns our desires with Him--gives us the desires. I think this does explain how it happens. Our faith, our desires, gradually become more conformed to Him as He shows us the benefits of yielding to Him, because He loves us and in return we learn to love Him.
I'm sure God sees our prayers change and develop as we go through life in Christ. The prayers used to be all about us, our prosperity, our externals; as we go on, we desire to have Him change us more, to help others more, to use us for His purposes, to take away our tendency toward sin and selfishness. These things hardly even seem desirable to the person who doesn't know God.
In light of that, these verses take on a whole different meaning than when they're applied to self-centered desires. Read them again in the application of serving in God's will, accomplishing His purposes. What riches! The riches are much different than those we clung so hard to at one point in our lives; they are the riches of knowing God and having the privilege to be chosen to serve in His kingdom; to see Him glorified. They are the riches of wisdom, peace, joy; our every hunger and thirst is filled by our God in Heaven! What more riches could a person really want? So I say, coming to Christ is a way to get rich quick. Well, quick enough, anyway!

Friday, April 18, 2008

I Like Jumping Off Cliffs into the Big Unknown

I woke up in the wee small hours of the morning this morning and had to puzzle over some new data that I didn't have until yesterday. A few days back, I discovered this "Feedburner" that I could implement for my blog. Do I know what it is? No. But I burned my feed. (That was the cliff I jumped off of. Boy, that was exciting! Will my blog go up in flames? Will my computer go up in flames? Did I just see a spark? Do I know what I did even though I did it? No. And it reminded me of when I submitted myself to Christ, not knowing what in the world I was doing, but knowing it was better than where I was, sort of like the Israelites going through the Red Sea.) Still, I poked around the site and found to my amazement that it says I have 13 subscribers to my blog as of yesterday. Now I know I'm a small potato in the land of big spuds, and some people have hundreds or thousands of subscribers, but my expectations in that regard are very small. I write because I have to. I write in hopes that people might know the greatness of my God. I write to sort out my thoughts. But I don't write thinking that many people will want to come back and know what I said just lately. Wow, 13's quite a lot!
The frustrating thing is that Sitemeter (through which this non-techy writer thought she had stumbled upon a nifty piece of technology), tells me that I have 3 subscribers. That makes more sense to me: Stacia, Katie, and Lisa. I know them, they know me, and they subscribe because they're nice. I've enjoyed seeing a little window into who comes to my blog: mostly strangers who google and happen upon it from all over the world and mostly all over the U.S. I get little vague clues of information about what draws them here, and that is all. I'm too cheap to buy the enhanced version which would tell me more, though that would be nice.
There was a time when I was writing things in response to some issues I had with an organization I belonged to--I won't get more specific--and it was fun to watch the Sitemeter activity bounce all over the place, because I know people were reading it who I wanted to have read it. That was when my readership went up to its heights for that while. Then it became subdued as they became disinterested, and my exposure is as far as I know mainly to strangers who know nothing about me except the one page that most of them visit before they go on to something else. Still, the visits to my blog are at a high, almost--somehow at Christmas time many people had the time and interest to come visit more than at any time before or since. I can't really explain it, except I did have a couple of blogs about Christmas that drew some limited response.
Thing is, I thought that Sitemeter was thorough and I knew enough to be happy. But to think I have 13 subscribers--it leaves me reaching for a bath towel. Who's watching me?! I have to learn this Feedburner's purposes and whether their definition of subscriber is the same as Sitemeter's is the same as mine. Weird to think 13 people know me so well as to subscribe, and I have no idea who they--who YOU--are. Well, I invite you in. You know about me and I know nothing about you, but you are welcome. Enjoy what I have to say, if you will. I'm flattered by your interest! May God bless you somehow through my writings. And remember, I do have a nice little feature where you can leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you! And now, if you don't mind, I think I'll go back to bed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Blackberry Bushes and Weeds Remind Me of Sin...

There are two types of garden work that get me thinking about sin. Not about a specific sin, but more about the ongoing fight we have against it. Once or twice a year, I have to trim back the blackberries that border the back of our yard. I call the stuff my "moat" because it's almost as good as having a moat around the back; it keeps big nasty animals and nosy humans out of our yard for the most part, without having a fence that blocks the view of our nature preserve (sounds more wild than it is--it's just the wetland park in behind, beyond which is more neighborhood).
Anyway, I feel quite a little bit like Indiana Jones, getting a hold of these long (and I mean long, maybe 15 feet or so, which is triple my height) tendrils of blackberry vine, and whipping them back up the bank and into the yard, where I can chop them up and pack my yard waste bin chock full of them. In the process they occasionally snag whatever I'm wearing or leave little scratches on me in places. My feet get entangled in them and I have to be rather careful not to let them trip me up and win the battle! Afterward I always wash up, and feel so much better, if exhausted! So I think of the entanglements of sin (Hebrews 12:1), and how strong and thorny and snaggy they can be. Well, that wasn't the job that reminded me today. (That one's still to come soon.)
We also have a vegetable garden, which in spite of it being too unseasonably cold to plant useful vegetables yet, is quite hospitable to every variety of weeds. In fact, the dandelions that I find so charming a harbinger of spring in the fields and meadows are a danger flag to me in the back yard--that if I don't get to them in time, my yard will be overcome by virtue of just the slightest puffs of wind gently sailing the seeds to every available patch of land and crack of pavement that isn't otherwise taken. There are also beautiful little weeds that show off their cute little white flowers...right at their prime just now--and if we let those go just a wee bit longer, those darling flowers will have turned to evil little seed pods that pop open at the slightest touch, making even weeding them out into a not-too-helpful seed-planting festival. So both of those weeds are high priority for pulling. Today I got out there with my big shovel, loosening up the roots, some as thick as carrots, plucking them, and throwing them into a pile that would fill our yard waste bin about half full.
There are a lot more weeds, but I don't have the time to attend to them yet. They aren't threatening to multiply like those first two. They're problematic, too--can't plant my vegetables until they're pulled out, and some of them are huge clumps of grass; some are even baby trees and blackberry bushes. Some, such as the plantain, send out little roots in every direction so new weeds can grow attached to the mama plant. I can get to those later (well, maybe the word should be sooner), but I can't ignore them either!
So it is with sin. There are some that want to go to seed. They can even look charming on the surface. When they go to seed, they plant themselves in the hearts of others with whom the sinner is influential, and plant and do their work unless they're weeded out. The attack on them is high priority for the protection of other believers. There are some others that grow big, so that virtues can't grow there instead and produce fruit. There are some with roots that would go deep, and entangle the innards to death or pop out in other places with new baby problems that result from the first one. At any rate, they're all rather urgent to deal with.
There may be new weeds that we never saw before in our neighborhood, that we never thought we'd be troubled with taking root in us. We ought to deal with those right away, because they might be stronger than we expect. There may be seasons where many different kinds seem to be plentiful. We have to use necessary tools to help us, such as Scriptures and the accountability and prayer that trusted friends can provide. Just as using children's plastic gardening tools won't be useful in attacking the weeds in my garden, sweet little poems and sayings that aren't Scripture won't help much in the fight against sin--we need the real thing, the Scriptures that remind us about going to confess our sins to God for forgiveness (1 John 1:9) and about the consequences of sin (James 1:13-15) and about the evil intents of Satan (John 10:10). We may get dirty, tired, and out of breath in the process, but then we can go to Christ and show Him what we've been dealing with and thank Him for His help. He can wash us clean, and make us all fresh and new, like a great hot and soapy shower (Psalm 51:7); and He'll rejoice with us (Zeph 3:17) at the clean new soil where good fruitful plantings can now take hold.

Yesterday as I was weeding (and I still have another day's worth at least!), I found a further stretch to take this talk--I would turn over a shovelful of earth, and find weeds that I had hidden in my haste to loosen the soil the time before. The weeds were not only still alive and green, but thriving and growing, hidden away, where they were not easily found--and eventually they would have been very hard to remove as their already strong roots would have become even stronger. Just as with weeds, it doesn't pay to hide our sins away; tear them out! Uproot them! Expose them to the light of God's healing word, to His forgiveness, to His correction. It isn't as if He doesn't know about them anyway; we needn't fear His condemnation, but instead seek His loving forgiveness, help and instruction. He is absolutely our best ally in killing the sins that so easily deceive and entangle; without His help we can do nothing in this fight.

The Wrong Kind of Contentment

There is nothing like contentment. If a person lacks contentment about what God has given them in life, out of that discontent can arise petty quarrels, jealousies, enmity, and strife...when contentment reigns, those joy-killers are far less likely to rear their ugly heads. There are at least two kinds of contentment though, and I've been pondering one type that the Bible never advocates; still, I can easily come to rest in this contentment when no one challenges me in it: the contentment about where I am in my growth in Christ. This type of contentment is actually stagnation, lack of growth, in fact a death of sorts, and the type of thing that we are called upon to challenge out of one another when we see that it has taken hold.
I can so easily make the mistake of being spiritually content; that is, content with where I am, not seeking to challenge myself, to learn, to grow, to interact with others, Christian and non-Christian, who might show up my various weaknesses. When I avoid fellowship or deep interaction with others, I stagnate. It is their loss, but mostly my own. The vitality of my faith is lost in that case, and it stunts my development, my fellowship in our church, the "iron sharpening iron" that I so need.
A few weeks ago a person in our congregation presented a list of the "one anothering" verses from the Bible to the pastor, who made a passing reference to it, and I found a copy of it on our back table. This list is one of the things that could help a person emerge from the stagnation of this contentment. I looked them up on the internet, and found a website with a project that I think is designed for kids, but that would be applicable to any of us. It assigns the use of these verses, one at a time, so that the participant would decide on whom they would apply the use of that one-anothering verse and how in the coming week. We could easily do this with index cards posted on the fridge, with the verse, the intended recipient, and the resolution of what intended action we should take.
The one-anothering verses make for a good study. Most of us probably could rattle off a few of them: Love one another; be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other; bear one another's burdens; encourage one another; pray for one another; practice hospitality to one another...and even in rattling off those that we know off the top of our heads, couldn't most of us pick out one or another which we could improve on exercising? Have I been encouraging those who I see struggling? Have I been faithful in prayer for all those in tough or uncertain times? How long ago was it that I had a family over for lunch, dinner, dessert--especially someone who I haven't gotten together with before outside of church?
So, maybe it's good enough for a while to work with the one-anothering verses that we already know. Once we've challenged ourselves in applying those to the point where it's become a more fruitful lifestyle, maybe we should look up some more and do the same with them. It's not an uncommon study; googling it brings up various lists of the verses and approaches regarding them. We can also look the verses up on any Bible software or website, or in our concordances.
In suggesting this to my dear readers, I hope that I'm doing Hebrews 10:24, which has continually come to my mind over the last few weeks: "...and let us consider how to stimulate (KJV: provoke; NIV: spur; Amplified: stir up, stimulate or incite; NLT: motivate) one another to love and good deeds..." directed, of course, as much toward myself as to anyone else.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I Love my MP3! Join me in my Discoveries!

Lately I've made a neat discovery. Well, it's a discovery I was intending to make, to tell the truth. It's thanks to my mp3 player again. The main reason I asked for it at Christmas was so that I could listen to sermons, and so I've downloaded from, from, and from the chapel sermons from my daughter's Christian college. (She selectively told me who her favorite speakers were, and so I'm not saving the best for last!) I recommend this, it's a great way to fill in the quiet times--though I'm hardly saying all quiet times need filling in, but having a certain amount of favorable instruction instead keeps my mind on better track than if at times all that goes on in my head is my random thought process.
The neat thing is that you can choose according to speakers whose names you know; you can investigate other speakers (and as a result check out your discernment skills); you can choose sermon subjects that you feel are an appropriate focus for whatever you're facing in life, for whatever spiritual weakness you might see in's just a great way to go and I highly recommend it.
I've found a few that I think are phenomenal. These aren't speakers who I was acquainted with previously (except one). Also, note that some of them have Irish and Scottish accents, which I find charming and strong to listen to; also a charming Chinese accent of one of the professors who my daughter says is highly considered. I intend to add to this list as I find more, Lord willing. Check out the following:

Do You Love Me?
This is the best explanation I've ever heard regarding Jesus and Peter, the "Feed My Sheep" discussion. He makes a number of great points in this sermon.
Pastor Joseph LoSardo, Bread of Life Fellowship

Dangerous Self-Talk and its Consequences (excellent!)
David Dykstra is the pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Lafayette in Lafayette, New Jersey

The Path to Burnout
Tom Chesko, Shalom Outreach Ministries

Barnabas, the Ministry of Encouragement

Denis Lyle, Denis Lyle Ministries

The Antidote to Affliction
Dr. Frank McClelland

Elijah’s Furnace of Affliction
Philip DeCourcy
Chapel at TMC
(most of the way down the webpage)

Running the Race of Faith (excellent! and we know this speaker from our previous church!)
Micah Lugg
Chapel at TMC
(at this writing, 2 items down the webpage)

Pray without Ceasing (this one is phenomenal and thorough!)
Dr. Daniel Wong
Chapel at TMC
(about ¾ of the way down the webpage)

Now don't try to figure out what is going on in my life from the titles of these sermons, because you'll find yourself completely misled. Still, I recommend these and you might consider either downloading them to an mp3 player yourself, or playing them on your computer at high volume so you can sit back (or do dishes) and listen to them.

Okay, so Tax Time proves I'm not in all ways Frugal...

Taxes show me the true state of my self-discipline. I worked on it back in January because I had to, and continued off and on until I was done enough to work on Katie's FAFSA (application for Federal Student Aid)...and though I had a few little details to figure out, I put it aside because I had more urgent demands on my life at the time. Then urgency yielded in time to the eventual need to be painting in our house. This is an ongoing process which I hope will someday be done, because we want to sell, but that's becoming less realistic a goal for this year than it seemed a few months ago. Still, it's a goal, and I have to paint, fix mistakes, finish little unfinished parts (sort of like my taxes), and then go on to the next room I want to see changed. When we're done with that, we start floors. Ick.
So anyway, I finally sort of half-heartedly started looking in the den for the tax materials, which somehow kind of got scattered in the piles of papers that I characteristically (now this is sick) put in bins until I can deal with them. They didn't stay in one spot; they scattered like some demon had stirred the bins with a stick. I even found them not in one bin, but in two. At least I found them. But I didn't even start looking for them until a couple of days ago, because the deadline wasn't, after all, until today...and I thought there was only a very little bit left to do.
Of course, when I got it all together, I realized there was some to figure out on Katie's to the point that I had to do hers all over again. Does this sound sick that I'm doing hers? Well, I like to think that it's compassion on my part, not spoiling or enabling or whatever, because she's in an overwhelming load of classes and I want her to be able to focus on them. I'm glad, too, because in doing them, I realize how awful it would have been for her.
Have you ever done your own taxes? I hate the uncertainty of just hoping against hope that I understand the instructions accurately. Part of why I do them myself instead of going to some organization is because I'm part Scottish and part Jewish, and hate to pay for something that I can supposedly conceivably wrestle through for myself. The other part is that for me, one of the hardest parts is getting all the information together for the person doing the taxes (in this case, me). If I hired someone, I'd have to make 40 trips to keep going back and forth to get them one more W-2 or other form...and as happens in doing them at home, I'd realize at the last minute that there's yet one more form than I thought that pertained to what I have to compute. (And it usually changes a number near the top of the front, so that I have to figure out the front and the back a few times all over again.)
It's okay. I have had the IRS politely and kindly correct me a number of years ago, but they didn't penalize me. Maybe it's because I overpaid rather than underpaid; maybe it's because I reported to pay taxes on things that I didn't have any proof of having received, and so they figured I was honest. (I am; not only because I'm Christian, but also because I'm afraid of getting caught.)
So thanks to the IRS, if I didn't know it otherwise, thanks to them I know I'm not perfect. They let me know that I'm prideful enough to mistakenly think that I can do the impossible in an impossibly short time. They also let me know that I'm not disciplined enough to do something with deadline to spare. Well, tonight may have been a record, we got it in maybe 3 hours ahead of midnight, but that's probably only thanks to the fact that we...have money coming back. (Sigh.) I'm incorrigible. I will really know that Jesus has impacted me if I ever get it in on the 14th. Ask me next year...and the year after that...with God all things are possible!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Here I am, Send me!

Homeschooling Katie and Tim, I've tried to emphasize to them the importance of missions by reading missions biographies, which I think surpass any fictional or secular adventure story they can read...because God is orchestrating the whole thing. I think I've done better at presenting it to Katie, who was interested from the time she was quite young--and to this day I wouldn't be at all surprised if she did go overseas somewhere. She and I originated and ran a missions reading program one summer in the church we attended at the time. It ended up being participated in by most of the children of the church, and it was very gratifying to see the kids gobble up the reading opportunities there.
I also entertained the idea of us as a family being missionaries, though Gary has never been ready so far when I suggested it, even though for a while we were on a missions committee in one church. I liked to think that I was of the missionary variety of Christian...yet if God willed it so, He would have moved Gary's and my hearts at the same time to do the same thing. At this point, I can't really leave the family for any missions trips on my own; Tim needs me to homeschool him, though Gary probably could get by without me otherwise for at least a while some day...I would hope.
As time goes on, I am more dismayed by the thought of just how difficult the various discomforts would be. Maybe it's age making me love comfort more, aware that my pains are more easily jarred as I age. I am also perturbed that I'm not the most gifted at loving every neighbor or at least at keeping on great terms, especially with those who are difficult in various ways--I'm more aware of that in this neighborhood than any previous. That is to my shame, but I haven't yet overcome my ineptitude there.
Then today, I looked up into the skylight and saw three different types of spiders up there...and realized that they were probably nothing compared with some you'd see in more tropical climates. Somewhere else, perhaps there'd be a tarantula, a scorpion and a boa constrictor, or some such thing, and I think how much I prefer our three little spiders.
Those considerations are no doubt only a small portion of what many missionaries face. I was listening to a chapel sermon from my daughter's college the other day. The man spoke in a whisper as a result of serving as a missionary in Central America, where the drug trade and other matters make it a potentially violent place to be. His whisper came about from being shot in the neck when he drove by someone who mistook him for an enemy. Nevertheless, he wasn't giving up on that work. He glorified God in that circumstance as well.
I know that missionaries are also merely human and do the work through God's power and not their own. Our pastor led a group of four people way into Siberia on a short-term missions trip. It was strenuous in every way, and the demands the people made upon them when they got there were continual--yet they all came home pretty much as healthy as when they left, and had accomplished much in that short time! How else are these people in remote places going to be reached with the gospel? How much should a person love comfort, or coddle their own weaknesses, or worry about safety? Our weaknesses show a window for God's strength to shine through, and where God's will for us is, is where we ought to be even if seemingly bad things befall us. Maybe God can still use me for missions someday.
Because I am aware of the validity of missions, I will continue to try to interest Tim in these biographies which we will read together, hoping that he will consider missions work himself. I had almost forgotten my two favorite small children's missions stories that I really need to bring to church to share in the nursery and Sunday school classes: "Granny Han's Breakfast" and "Ian and the Gigantic Leafy Obstacle." They are short, amazing stories that show God's omnipotence and provision, and maybe some other little child will get a little idea of being a missionary someday too.
I hope that even if I am old before I get the chance, that if the opportunity presents itself, I will, in spite of any aches or pains, stretch myself out to my full short height, wave my hand up high, standing on tiptoe, and call out with an eager, toothless and wrinkled smile, "Here I am, send me!"

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Sad Report on Fidelity Investment Proxy Vote

Also please note: Fidelity is not alone. Investors Against Genocide has a whole list of companies that embrace this practice, and I urge you to go to their website and take any conscientious course of action that you will in your means of investing and in your proxy votes. Click here for Investors Against Genocide's list of suggestions regarding how you can help fight this evil.

'For wicked men are found among My people,
They watch like fowlers lying in wait;
They set a trap,
They catch men.
Like a cage full of birds,
So their houses are full of deceit;
Therefore they have become great and rich.
They are fat, they are sleek,
They also excel in deeds of wickedness;
They do not plead the cause,
The cause of the orphan, that they may prosper;
And they do not defend the rights of the poor.
Shall I not punish these people?' declares the LORD,
'On a nation such as this
Shall I not avenge Myself?'
Jeremiah 5:26-29

Well, I'm sorry to give this update to my previous blog entry regarding Fidelity's shareholder proposal concerning "oversight procedures to screen out investments in companies that, in the judgment of the board, substantially contribute to genocide, patterns of extraordinary and egregious violations of human rights, or crimes against humanity." They recommended a vote that would allow them to continue to invest in these companies, and they won. I assume that the only reason that they won was because most people failed to open or read the mailing, and by failing to do so, failed to express what would most likely have been their response. They wasted their vote and Fidelity won, and genocide victims will continue to lose with their lives.
Maybe Fidelity will lose in the long run, by losing investors who realize what their money would be funding, and financial pressure will, after all, win the battle for what is right. We can always pray that this will be the case, that God will open the eyes of the people who can respond such--God is bigger and more powerful and cares about the defenseless and the orphan.

O LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble;
You will strengthen their heart,
You will incline Your ear
To vindicate the orphan and the oppressed,
So that man who is of the earth will no longer cause terror.
Psalm 10:17-18

For my original post regarding this, click here.

For the website of Investers Against Genocide, the organization that caused Fidelity to bring this to a vote, click here.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Exactly What Must I DO to be Saved?

Last Sunday our pastor was sharing various details about their recent trip to Russia. Before the team left here, the church women assembled a large number of bracelets that in the order and color of the beads illustrated the Bridge Illustration, sort of like the Wordless Book idea--that is, if you know neither of these, two similar methods of describing the gospel. The Wordless Book is a book of just colored pages, with each color of which you can sing a little song (words in parentheses): black (My heart was black with sin), red (until the Savior came in. His precious blood, I know), white (has washed me white as snow!), gold or yellow (And in His Word I'm told I'll walk the streets of gold), and green (I'll read my Bible and pray, and grow in Him every day!). Anyway, they shared the bracelets and a little piece of paper explaining the colors of the beads and how they pertain to salvation in Christ; overall it sounded like the bracelets were very well received.
Our pastor told us about how the pastor from the other church shared the bracelets and papers with two Russian Orthodox women who thought the papers were wrong in their description of salvation, that it couldn't be just by grace rather than by a sacrificial gift to the church. Then one of the Russian women who worked alongside our team gave a bracelet and paper to her Russian Orthodox mother. The mother was amazed to discover that Protestant Christians believed the same thing about salvation as she did! It just goes to show, you don't know, just by the label a person has been given, who believes exactly what.
It also made me think, that little piece of paper covered all the basic essential truths of salvation, that we are sinful; that Jesus died on the cross to wash away our sins; that when He washes them because we accept His gift of salvation through prayer, then we are clean; that because He has done this, we can go to heaven; and that believers should read the Bible and pray and grow in our understanding and obedience to His truth. Pretty simple! And how much we so often add to that! It seems that we all struggle with the idea that it can't all be by God's grace, that we have to do something, be something, perform in some particular way in addition to what the salvation verses say.
I remember when I was a director of an Awana Chums group, 3rd and 4th grade girls, we were talking about reading our Bibles and praying. Just as a spur-of-the-moment thought, I asked the girls, "What would happen if a day went by and you didn't read the Bible or pray?" The resultant looks of dismay, of horror, that came across the faces of a few of the girls caught me completely by surprise--but it was clear that there were some there who thought it would result in serious trouble that they didn't even want to think about. I wasn't exactly sure, so quickly, how to handle their extreme reactions. I am pretty sure they thought their salvation would be in question. I told them that Jesus wants our continued relationship with Him, He doesn't want us to neglect His word, but that He is gracious and forgiving and it wouldn't be an extremely desperate matter--but that we should stay in the habit of reading and praying. I can't imagine how few Christians there might be on the planet who think their salvation is secure if it depended on our faithfulness rather than that of Christ!
It isn't just little girls who think we have to add stuff, works, perfection of our own to what Christ has done. There are churches that teach that if you don't speak in tongues, you're not saved; that if you do speak in tongues, you're not saved; that you have to give an exact tenth of your income as offering, that you have to attend church on Saturday, that you have to attend on Sunday, that you have to read the King James Version of the Bible, that you have to confess through a priest at church for forgiveness of sins. There are people that think that Christian women can't wear pants rather than skirts, that they can't wear makeup, that they wouldn't go to church without something on their head, that Christian girls wouldn't go to college, that women can't work outside the home, that you can't play cards, that you can't dance...with some thought I may be able to come up with some more. Now some of these may have practical application in some families, but I'd like someone to show me where in the Bible it says that they're a matter of salvation.
I agree, in reference to the matter of tongues and similar issues, that it's important for each believer to prayerfully determine what the Holy Spirit would have them believe; it's important to study the Bible and submit your faith to the whole counsel of Scripture rather than what any church or denomination or person would have us believe. "But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good." 1 Thessalonians 5:21. But don't add anything to the basics of salvation; it's a strong human tendency to think that we have to do something to earn it.
In Galatians, Paul said, "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!" Paul didn't want the Galatians believing that they had to be circumcised in order to validate their salvation. Even in Bible times, adding human works to salvation, thereby changing the gospel, was a human compulsion which Paul and his co-workers continually fought. If a person believes something other than the biblical model of salvation in order to get to heaven, he could conceivably lose out on salvation entirely, so it's vital that we express it correctly--no more, and no less. Otherwise, if it didn't matter, Paul would not have fought this misunderstanding with such passion as he did.
Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."

Christian Music

I sometimes think I would have been a musician if I had been trained as a kid to play and understand music, because I love it is, though, for me it is purely a spectator sport, where I love it, enjoy it, know a very little about it, have no time to pursue it, and couldn't create it to save my life. Does everyone always have a song going through their head at any given time? I know I do...ask me any time what's playing and I could tell you. Before I was a Christian, it was rock music, not hard rock, just the popular stuff on the radio...had a few records, a few tapes, and memorized them within hours of getting them home. When I was part of Bible Study Fellowship, they encouraged participants to purge stuff from their lives that wasn't honoring to Jesus. I took that, perhaps, a little to the extreme, such that I got rid of my secular music that wasn't really so bad but it wasn't great in retrospect either, and replaced it all with Christian music. At the time I remember thinking that there would never be many Christian songs to replace all the secular songs I knew...and yet, between the old hymns that will never fade away because of their beauty and the stories behind how they came to be written, the songs on Christian radio at the time, and my daughter's Christian songs for children (from which as a new Christian I remember learning some of my very basic theology--very basic, I had a long way to go!), really there was an abundance of Christian music, some songs better than others of course, and I never felt that it had turned out to be such a sacrifice to make the switch.
Is it my imagination, or are the lyrics to so many Christian songs much better than most of what was popular 18 years back when I first discovered Christian music? Seems like back then, in 1989 or so, many of the songs were the repetitive and shallow choruses that became the mainstay worship music of seeker-friendly churches. Now, though, there are so many songs on the radio that I just love, with thought-provoking, worship-inducing lyrics--I'm always thinking, "I want to write that one down, and learn all the words, and keep it on a list in my cupboard!" And that never seems to happen, because my hands are busy and...well, it just never happens. The alternative to this would be to upload them onto my mp3 player (after all, that's the main use most people find for those players, isn't it?), but I haven't figured that device out yet (and I mainly intended it for listening to sermons and stuff while I do things around the house--when I upload them, the sermons end up on the "music" portion of the player somehow, but that works okay because I can still listen to them. But that's another story.) So anyway, I'm still low-tech about songs.
I love to hear songs where the singer has a deep, rough voice and he's singing how much he loves Jesus. It just seems like the unexpected combination, I don't know why. The one I'm thinking of at the moment is Cry Out to Jesus, by Mac Powell of Third Day. I want to crank it up high in my car and go around with my windows down and let everyone hear it--over and over again until everyone hears it, everywhere I go, because it seems like it would be a great evangelistic tool if people would just listen to it. (I don't do this though. I think doing that might make more enemies than friends for Christ...especially if I sing along...) So instead, I sing along, with my car windows at least most of the way up, wishing in a wierd way that I could sing like him, and yet I have to be glad I can't! (It reminds me of a story...when I was little, my dad said that eating spinach would put hair on my chest, and I ate it with increased gusto, not realizing that might just be a negative...what is it about being macho that appeals to me? Ha!)
I knew there were other songs of that same description, the rough voice, with love for Jesus--and couldn't think of them because Cry Out is still running strong in my head (sort of like smelling three perfumes and then suddenly you can't smell anything)--so I went to the Third Day weblog and realized one of them is Your Love Oh Lord...(okay, I love music, but I don't know anything about it, and don't have time to really keep track and learn more about the really good songs, so I never really get a handle on who plays what! How contradictory is that?) I thought maybe liking at least two of Third Day's songs so well qualifies me as some sort of fan, so to speak. I went to their various websites for a few minutes, looking for a lyrics post sponsored by them rather than at some imposter website, and I had to be amazed at how obsessed some fans are who follow everything about Third Day. Wow, how do they have time for that? Maybe I don't qualify as a fan after all--it depends on how you define "fan." Anyway, I am thankful for all this music, the lyrics, the passion with which they're sung. And if you hear someone in the car behind you "singing" along, and find out it's me, forgive me, will you? I can't seem to help it.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Kind of a Wild Life

It's starting to feel like we're breaking out of the winter freeze. Last night we opened the bedroom window to air out the painting fumes, and so all night I could hear two different kinds of frogs croaking from the pond about 100 feet from our house--it sounds like we're surrounded by them! There seem to be hundreds of little ones, which we will find in various places all summer including near the lights at our front door. I think they are drawn there by the easy meal of flying insects that come to the lights at night. Then there are those that croak with a deep, huge voice, and sound like they must each be a foot across or so. Once in a while all the frogs would simultaneously fall silent. I don't know if there was a coyote or heron that kept haunting them, but every time they did, even if I was almost asleep, I had to laugh. It was amazing how suddenly they would stop and then start again.
Then this morning, not only were the frogs still croaking, but I could hear various bird calls. Without looking out the window, I could almost imagine it being a jungle environment with all the animal sounds going on. I tried counting the bird calls, and thought that I came up with seven different calls before I got too confused to continue.
On the way to church I had a phenomenal experience: I drove right past a bald eagle taking off in flight from the side of the road. It flew up right in front of me, such that I had to brake to keep from hitting it. I was probably within five feet of it; it was almost surreal to have the white-brown-white pattern come up in startling closeness and reality in front of me. It was a huge bird, with huge, distinguishable feathers! Definitely amazing.
Still, I pondered how much I would be likely to tell people at church about it; not very likely, because there was too much other excitement going on. Our pastor and a young member of our congregation had just come back from a missions trip to Russia, and that same pastor was speaking about his upcoming sabbatical. In all of that, I forgot for the while about the eagle.
I went out tonight to bring Tim in, and the air felt a bit balmier than usual, and the frogs were back at their constant croaking. All in all, it was an eventful, animal-filled day. I'm thrilled to think that summer will be coming soon, we'll be able to keep the windows open more and be lulled to sleep by croaking and wakened by bird calls.

What is Your Breaking Point?

If you know much about Christianity, and about Christians in particular, one thing that distinguishes Christians from others is their testimony. The testimony of a Christian is the story of how they came to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Unless it happened when the person was a small child, a testimony almost always involves a story of extreme pain, sorrow, horror, inadequacy, rejection...always something negative, always something intolerable. It is something that God uses to get the attention of someone whose heart He is seeking.
It seems that a lot of people think that God should get their attention by making some miracle happen in front of their eyes, or by performing some other trick. I don't know of anyone who has had God perform a trick or miracle in order to help them come to know Him. It's always a difficulty, instead; we don't seem to see our need for Him when everything's fine and good, but always when we're in trouble.
I remember knowing a woman who lived next door to us for a number of years. We lived in an old, quite low-income neighborhood--to the point where I remember Katie's friends' parents sometimes wouldn't allow their children to come visit, expressing that they were afraid of the neighborhood in which we lived. Our next-door neighbor was a single woman who had messed up her life more than anyone I had ever known. She rented the upstairs floor of that house. She was an extreme alcoholic, had used drugs to the point that she had self-inflicted mental illness and was receiving Social Security disability pay. It was frustrating to me that the government funds were used to rescue this woman from having to face up to the problems she had created in her own life. Because of her instability, in spite of government funding, she was often lacking basic items for her life. She would come over and ask for some toothpaste or toilet paper; in fact, she admitted that she went to different houses in order not to overwhelm any one person with her requests. I remember telling her the gospel when her foot was in a cast because she had fallen down the stairs in a drunken stupor. She had hit what I would consider the bottom of the barrel. It may not have been the most receptive time in her life, but it was hard to find what would be--she was so often drunk or in some way out of her mind--and to my knowledge she never really responded, never really understood that she needed God more than she needed a fifth of Vodka. Because of her various problems, the bottom of the barrel was indistinguishable from the top. What a shame--drugs and alcohol and government support had numbed her to the point where she would never be able to comprehend the ugliness of her life or the beautiful truth of God's love for her; she seemed incapable of being reached.
It made me realize that we all have different breaking points. Some of us only have to recognize the ugliness of the sin that goes on in our minds and hearts. Some have to be rejected by people that it seems should care about them. Some have to be hit by a physical disability or other thing that makes them realize they can't get through life by being self-reliant. Perhaps something has to be taken away that they have been relying on for meaning in their lives. Maybe you'll hardly have to have anything horrible happen, or maybe you'll almost be in the state my neighbor was in. God is creative and has a variety of ways to help men realize they need a great solution that is bigger than anything they can see. What is it for you? Have you come to your breaking point? What will God have to do to get your attention? At what point will you find the end of your rope?
I urge you, in light of God's mercy, turn to God today for salvation. He will forgive you, give you mercy and grace, guide and help you, and draw you out of the pit. You'll find that those are distinguishing marks of His, His way of dealing with people who are in trouble who turn to Him. It isn't hard. Just as He won't perform tricks to authenticate who He is, He won't require tricks or cleverness from you. All He wants you to do is acknowledge in prayer that you are a sinner in need of a Savior (this is not as shocking as it sounds, because ALL of us are in that same boat), and that you want Him to forgive your sins and make you clean. Then you will belong to Him and your life will change in some amazing ways, some immediate and some over time. (He may not take away all your problems, but He will equip you and help you and give you new ways of thinking and doing things, and give you hope like you've never had before.) You will never want to go back to where you are now, and you'll wonder why you ever waited so long as you did to turn to Him.
Psalm 50:15 "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me."

Friday, April 04, 2008

God Provides Infectious Encouragement

Gary has been telling people all week that he's going down to see Katie--officially for a job interview, and that may be a huge blessing in and of itself, if it turns out to be the job for him, but visiting Katie is definitely the highlight. Imagine, of all the cities in the United States, of all the airports serving those cities, the one that he's called to fly into for a job interview is the same one that Katie flies in and out of to school--Burbank, California. Because of that, he arranged it so that he can stay overnight; the company who called him down is also paying for a rental car for the duration of his visit. Is God not good? We know it! Gary was so excited in anticipation, that in true Gary style, he told the checker at Costco all about it as she rang up our purchase last night. When I told Katie that, she was all the more delighted--at his delight.
Tonight Gary called our home phone. He was giving me a rundown of how the day went with Katie. He had already told me some about the interview (which so far left him undecided if they should offer him the job), but this time he was just bubbling over with the day's events afterward. While he was talking, Katie called my cell phone. He told me to call him back later, and when I answered Katie, she started bubbling over with all the same news as Gary, from her own perspective. She said even this afternoon and all it contained was like a mini-vacation, and she felt so refreshed. It was hard to tell who was happiest!
It's amazing how infectious a little bit of encouragement becomes. Gary's encouraged, which encourages Katie, and their both being encouraged at the same time becomes a delight for me to hear. I got to share it with my friends Lanae and Scott, and they thought it was pretty neat as well. How good God is, to provide for such a wonderful afternoon and give Gary and Katie a great pick-me-up when both had been working so hard at their various challenges! He is good and merciful and kind; "The Lord is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation." Psalm 118:14.

A Lot of Paint and Some Pondering

I've been painting like crazy around the house lately. It is, we hope, the last step before re-doing floors so we can sell our house later this year. We're hoping that we can do much of the floor installation ourselves too, to save some money, but it will probably be a huge challenge. We haven't ever been big into table saws or mitre saws, and the work will probably involve the use of these to one extent or another. If it's too challenging, carpeting will cover more of the floor than we presently hope.
While I paint, I think about things. I ponder various problems and issues we deal with, I pray for people I'm concerned about, and I wash up in a hurry to answer the phone or to go to the store for supplies or to make dinner. My general housekeeping and cooking quality goes down the tubes when I have other projects in process. Painting is consuming work! Clean a lot, paint a little, clean drips a little, find missed spots a little...and start all over again in another place. I spend as much time fixing my mistakes as doing the original work. Still, especially on the walls that I've never painted, covering the builder-quality paint with a new paint with some sheen and substance to it feels oh, so good.
Tim had three of his friends over for the day yesterday; that's a good thing, because when I'm painting, he doesn't do very well at keeping himself occupied. There's only so much a kid can do out in the yard alone, and the tv becomes too convenient. (We've had his eyes examined, and the doctor says he can't focus well yet--he needs eye therapy, so until we have insurance again, reading by himself is a rather short-term occupation.) While his friends were over, they would one by one come into the entry where I was using an extension rod to reach the highest portions of the wall. The extension goes up about 15 feet, I'd guess, and I think it's very nifty. May God bless the person who invented that, and all his offspring! I never would paint those walls without it--a person could die from the fall from a ladder!
I was pretty surprised at the boys' choice of questions. "What are you doing?" (This with two five-gallon paint buckets, one one-gallon paint can, a painting tray, various brushes, a roller, wet rags and little corner tools etc. scattered across the floor where I was working, and the extension rod in my hands.) "Painting." "Oh." (Two boys asked that.) "What color are you painting?" asked another, later. "Brown," I said, holding a paintbrush with brown paint in my hand. I was touching up the paint over the front door at that point. When I was using the extension rod, I thought that would catch their attention more than anything, but none of them seemed to be in the least impressed by it.
Considering the low cost of paint, it hugely improves the looks of the place--that and the cleaning of cobwebs and dust that I discover along the way. Our ledges over our entry were huge dust collectors, and having cleaned and painted them, the climb up the stairs seems much brighter and will be easier to clean with the shinier paint. I've painted the high entry walls, the ledges, the stairway down to the basement, the family room, and I'm now working on painting our bedroom. I also touched up a number of other walls. There are a few more rooms to go. I found two places where just-painted corners got nicked again, needing plaster and texture before paint, and about four just-painted walls where fingerprints and mud splashes repopulated the surface. I guess I can be thankful that we only have one boy around most of the time! I may never finish, at this rate.
Still, I rarely feel this productive. It's easy to let a lot of time go by without doing anything that has a long-term effect to it, and many days would seem to have nothing much to show for them. Sad to think how short-term this long-term thing actually is...we'll only physically see it for as long as we own the house. If I didn't think it would help to sell it, I probably wouldn't bother. Hopefully it will make it sell faster, and maybe for more money, so that we'll be able to buy the next house with less debt than otherwise.
It makes me want all the more to focus on the things that give my life the longest-term effect for the time and energy invested in them. Cooking and cleaning are so daily and ongoing that it's hard to see any long-term good in them. I guess raising kids and being married (hopefully all to the glory of God) and growing in faith are the long-term, nay, eternal elements of being an at-home wife and mother...the dishwashing and cooking and laundry, and even painting, are just necessary distractions along the way.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

It's Hard to Avoid the Snares of Selfishness

We are surrounded by misinformation. Not just surrounded, barraged. Most of these messages go straight to the center of self. It's hard to keep one's focus on what is true and what is right when not only our media and all worldly influences would try to convince us of lies, but our sinful selves want to believe them. "You deserve it." "You're worth it." "It's all about you." (I honestly saw that on one of the employment websites that Gary was visiting.) "You need to take care of yourself first." (Well, there are times when there is a little bit of truth to that, such as if you and your family have the flu and you can't help them until you clean yourself up, but in general it can be just a way of feeding and justifying self.) Some even edge on the spiritual: "God wants you to be happy." (That was a line in one of Katie's Christian child-song tapes: "God wants you to be happy now, not just in the hereafter." Wow.) Not that He necessarily doesn't, but it ain't necessarily so, either.
Imagine if our world were so caught up in the beauty of God and holiness that we only heard truth! Well, of course most of the advertising would cease. Still, maybe some would have its place: Imagine an ad quoting Philippians 2:3-5: "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus..."
Wow. I suppose a person could use that verse to sell many a gift item, a luxury cruise, anything wonderful, to people who wanted to buy them, not for themselves, but for others. It's too unlike our real world to even comprehend such an advertisement going across the airwaves, or on the flip side, to imagine that there would be an effective audience for such advertising. I think if I had a business, it would be fun to experiment a bit with advertising dollars, if I could afford it, promoting truth and selflessness. Of course, I would still likely be doing it out of some selfish ambition, hoping people would buy my product so that I could profit...sigh. It's a tainted world we live in, and it's hard to imagine being fully untainted by it. I guess that's just a glimmer of why heaven is so unimaginable...and so heavenly.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

After 25 Years, Married Life is a Blessed Existence

When Gary and I were first married, we weren't believers. We were about the most ill-equipped couple for marriage, and if I were a betting person, I think looking back, I would have placed some strong bets on our marriage not lasting seven years. I was confrontational, and he was non-confrontational--both in the extreme--and this combination led to some hideous disagreements and frustration. The fact that we have made it to almost 25 years is truly only by God's grace, not by any wisdom or power of our own! I can honestly say, though, that the most recent years have been the best, and this last year may have topped all the others; God is so gracious.
It didn't take long for us to discover the first challenge to our relationship. Gary's mom had been in a severe car accident when Gary was 12--and Gary's dad said she had never been the same since. I honestly have never met a person who was more constantly tense than she was. Seven years after we were married we were told that she'd been diagnosed with Alzheimers', but I'm not sure whether it was truly that, or merely a result of the accident and the constant pain relievers and other drugs that she'd taken over those years. When I first met her, I remember being amazed--I'd never met anyone who was so stuck in an era; she dressed, cooked, and lived as if she still were in the 50's or 60's. (I'd never seen tomato aspic, for example, until we went to their house.) The most troubling thing I remember from that first meeting was that when she gave me an empty dish back to take home, she was desperate to put it in a filmy old plastic bag with a much-used twist-tie wound many times to close it. When I said I didn't need the bag, she became very agitated. This was my strongest initial clue that she might have some trouble going on in her head.
Between her desire for control (plastic bags turned out to be the least of it), Gary's desire to please her, and his non-confrontational nature, I found myself continually coming out on the short end of the stick--so after visits with his parents, I found myself venting at Gary all the way home, fuming and frustrated. This became an awful cycle, and eventually, after Katie was born, I withdrew from their family gatherings, because they seemed to cause more harm to our relationship than good. Though this is far from the ideal outcome, in retrospect I think it was probably the best thing I could have done until I could develop some insight and self-control--at the time my withdrawal was the only solution, given the circumstances.
I received Christ when I was 29, and so while I still couldn't solve the problem, at least I had the power of prayer--no small thing; through it God gave me a useful outlet, a shoulder to cry on so to speak, and He came to my defense in various ways. It was the day after I'd been taught at a woman's retreat to give my problems to God and not take them back upon myself that He brought my in-laws to our house and we were finally told she'd been diagnosed with Alzheimers--two years previously.
From that point on, she became harmless as a kitten. She seemed to lack the fight that she'd had before, to realize that she'd lost hold on the ability to run things. Things became much easier for me, and Gary's dad knew what I'd gone through--his life, of course, hadn't been easy either.
During that time, Gary got a job in the pharmaceutical sales field, which he'd been trying to do for a couple of years. He started traveling about one week per month, and when he was home, he constantly had work to do. I started feeling like a single mom with a paycheck. I was constantly overwhelmed and our relationship wasn't exactly thriving. We hadn't really had any time to get it back into shape before he had started diving into his work...and this continued throughout his time in pharmaceutical sales, about 15 years. Having him so work-oriented was a hard thing to argue with: who can say that a man shouldn't work hard? It's considered a virtue, and a friend during that time was constantly telling me how her husband hated his job; that made it a little easier for me that Gary so loved his.
It took me a long time to realize that Gary's non-confrontational nature, even with its drawbacks, has also had its benefits. If we'd both been confrontational, we might never have lasted a year. The fact that he doesn't take up every issue has made life easy for me in the everyday aspects of life; I know of husbands who pick their wives apart for how they housekeep, how they cook, and whether they're overweight. Maybe it would be good for Gary to speak up more to me; I'd probably have had to develop more self-discipline, but I don't know if I could have coped with all the stresses we already were dealing with plus that type of control.
Now he's between jobs. Due to his age and a downsizing, he was laid off from his first pharmaceutical job after seven years, the year that he was top in sales in that company. Since that time, he has worked as a contracted sales rep--which means a rhythm of about a year and a half with a company, and then a job search. A one-year stint with a beverage company continued the cycle. Usually job stresses add problems to a marriage; in our case they've helped it. We've had to work together in the job searches, and to reconcile issues as they arise. I've also learned not to make a big issue of little things. Our having to work together, and the very fact that we've had so much time together, have been very therapeutic for what had been a very dysfunctional and seemingly rather hopeless situation. Gary's trouble in the job realm seems to be teaching him to rely more on God's power, and the sweetness of our church has greatly helped to draw him closer in this regard as well. Our communication has improved and increased, and overall, we're living in a very blessed time in spite of our finances taking a downward spiral. Even compared to our lives before marriage, our life is at its best now, since faith is more at the center of it and was non-existent then. Money is hardly everything; I think of it as just a number. If the number's in the black, so good regardless of how small it is. I don't want to think of what to say if it hits red, but with God's help we can make good of anything.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Random Acts of Kindness...Make me Think, at Least

Today we were the recipients of what in today's vernacular would be called a "random act of kindness." Lately I've been reading the Beverly Cleary books to Tim in our homeschooling (not that they're terribly educational. I do think, though, that they show him what life was like in the '60s when I was growing up--amazingly different in some ways from today, and amazingly similar in others). In one of the books, the family goes out for dinner at the Whopperburger restaurant. It's been a horrible day and a grouchy night, and they're glad to be at their favorite restaurant rather than facing their crock pot that hadn't been turned on that morning. The heroine, Ramona, makes an impression on a lonely older man, who pays for the family's dinner out and leaves before they can thank him.
Well, tonight I thought of that book, because we were celebrating a family event tonight. We went to Olive Garden, partially because my mom had sent a gift card at Christmas. We hardly ever go out to eat, at least at a sit-down restaurant--I'd usually rather eat at home--but maybe once or twice a year we do. While we were waiting for our table, Gary was talking to the young lady sitting next to us about sports. She was young, a new mother, and her husband was using the waiting time to go out and buy a diaper genie. Gary told her all about our family event (though I had asked him to keep quiet about it--it mortifies me when he does that), and she wished us happiness as they left to go to their table. And just so you don't wonder, I'm not pregnant. Whew! Glad I thought to clarify that.
We had our dinner, and the waitress was friendly and good at what she did. At another table, the staff crowded around and sang their version of Happy Birthday (the original of which chain restaurants do not use--it happens to still be copyrighted, we found when Katie worked at Red Robin). I told Gary that I really didn't want...well, I think the fact will come out in the telling, I don't know how to blur it better and still get the point of this post out...well, I didn't want them crowding around our table in similar style. We recognized a woman who came in with her daughter and sat at the table behind us. He told her...that it was my birthday. She was about the 8th person he had pointed that out to today; I should just get used to it, I guess! After all, most of the world already knew by the time we'd left the restaurant.
The waitress came from somewhere unseen, and wished me a happy birthday. I asked Gary if he had told her, but I think she'd overheard him during one of his many overexuberant conversations. I told her I'd just like to pass on the dessert and attention, but she ignored me. I was pretty sure she had heard me, but she didn't say anything. She just went away, and came back with an entourage of highly enthused, no, laboriously willing participants (one even joked that she'd have to pay him) to sing me their little ditty. And, they brought a cake, which seemed enormous as a birthday favor--enough to serve at least four and more like six people easily. Especially after an Italian dinner. I thanked them, and I was sincerely impressed. Wow, what a cake. After the hubbub died down, she told me that the cake was a gift from the couple we'd met while waiting for our table. They had already left by the time I knew they had given it.
I have to wonder at this. I'm pretty sure they weren't believers; not sure why I think this--we didn't give them any more impression than they did regarding such things, I realize looking back. It seems that it might have been motivated by the idea of the "random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty" that started swirling in the public consciousness not too many years ago. I still don't know what would motivate someone to do this, apart from faith, or maybe the idea of "what goes around, comes around." Though still, I realize unbelievers can seem kind, can exhibit what would seem like a fruit of the Spirit, in such a way that it would seem to put anything I do to shame and make me wonder what is the matter that I don't do such things at random.
We discussed it on the way home. I was saying that when I do what I perceive as kindnesses, I do them in far more measured ways--I tend to do them to encourage someone who needs encouragement, to help someone who needs help, to lift someone in some way when something has knocked them down. I rarely spend time doing kindnesses to people who don't seem to need them. And I have to wonder, which way is better? God loves a cheerful, hilarious, extravagant giver. He loves for us to help the downtrodden. He wants us to be good stewards. He also doesn't play favorites, so I suppose in that way He would want us to show kindnesses to everyone. How much would He want us to buy birthday cakes for people who probably don't need them? (I'd already received two--one from Gary, bought at the store, and one from our neighbor Stacia, home-made.) Yet it seems like a sweet act. I just have a hard time evaluating all these seemingly conflicting standards.
I would like to become more unthinking, more extravagant, more exuberant, more knee-jerk in my kindnesses, more forthcoming in that fruit of the Spirit. I don't want to be foolish, I don't want to be a bad steward, but I would like to just exhibit God's abundant, loving, joyful goodness. I know that if it's from Him, He will replenish what we give out, providing it into our lives and letting us channel it out to people. We are His vessels, His servants, and if He wants it done, He will give the means to do it--the one difference I can think of is that we should do it to His glory--somehow let it be known that it is His doing:

Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written, "HE SCATTERED ABROAD, HE GAVE TO THE POOR, HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ENDURES FOREVER."
Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.
For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. --2 Corinthians 9:6-12.
I love that passage! Yet I'm sure that I can forget its message within the hour. Perhaps I need to read it every day. It illustrates that stewardship can be more a matter of giving forth rather than measuring out; pouring out rather than doling out. I like that. If we err in our kindnesses, it's probably better to err on the side of foolishly giving something that wasn't too badly needed rather than foolishly withholding something for fear of wastefulness.
It may be a rather sad thing that I have something to learn about God from someone who might not even know Him. All the more, I hope that it is a lesson well-learned.