Saturday, May 31, 2008

Unexplained Mysteries of the Universe

I don't have to wrestle with the mysteries of the universe that so many wonder about, such as the meaning of life. Those types of things were solved when I received Christ as my Lord and Savior. Those things are solved and established and I don't have to worry about them. I wonder about universal mysteries such as the following:

1. Who tangles the cords of things that I neatly put in the drawer, so that it takes an hour to untangle them?

2. Why does my junk drawer lose the copies of all my useful keys, and acquire keys that I never had locks to match?

3. Where do I get all the plastic containers and tops that don't match?

4. Socks, too...who eats the socks? Why do they have to eat so many of them? Why can't they ever eat pairs of them? I know, I'm hardly the first that wondered this.

5. When a flock of birds lands on my lawn and hungrily attacks something in it, how do they know it's there? Do they see the grubs? Hear them? Smell them? Do the grubs send out ultrasonic vibrations? This has honestly puzzled me for a long time.

6. Why do some people not like the foods, colors, that I love? Are their taste buds and eye parts built differently from mine? Are their brains wired funny? The fault couldn't be with me...

7. Where does the time go? How is it that the presents that were new when we were married are now antiques? That's scary!

8. How did we end up being such collectors of useless stuff? I don't remember dragging all this home!

9. What made my body suddenly unable to do cartwheels, sleep on the floor or the ground, or stay up all night? It's not fair.

10. What is it about dirt piles, gravel, duct tape, and old tools that attracts males? And why do they love to destroy stuff?

11. Speaking of males, what is 10-year-old Tim up to? I'd better go find out...we do have about 8 mounds of "new" dirt in the park behind us...

Freedom in Christ: Amazing Grace for the Slaves we Once Were

Some months ago, our pastor showed this video at church, and just today it occurred to me that I might find it on YouTube and post it. I think you'll find it a stirring tribute to the source of music to the song "Amazing Grace."
The thing that brought it to mind was an article on Christianity Today's website, "He Still Wid Us - Jesus: The musical theology of spirituals," by Yolanda Y. Smith. Good reading!
That whole subject illustrates vividly how whether we see ourselves as enslaved to another human or to a life of sin, we can all find true hope, freedom, and rest in Jesus Christ alone. I am so glad that Jesus set me free! Amen, Hallelujah!
(The "He Still Wid Us" article is available at; if I edit this afterward to make a link or anything, I keep losing the video.)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Who is God?

Tonight we had a movie night at our church. Too bad more people didn't come, but it sure was phenomenal to see. As a matter of fact, my Tim, age 10 (who before we left to see it winced a bit when I said it wasn't an entertainment movie but a movie about God's creation), said that this is now his favorite "movie" and that he loved it! The film we watched was far better than mere entertainment. It was called "Indescribable" and the speaker, Louie Giglio, told in extensive form, using pictures taken from the Hubble Telescope, about how the heavens declare the glory of God. I tell you, our universe is beyond amazing in size, in beauty, in creativity, in variety. It definitely puts who we are in perspective, and makes all the more amazing how far God came to enter our dirty sinful little world to become like us, so that He could be rejected by us and die for us. It makes all the more unthinkable how He could even think of us, let alone love us as much as He has proven and continually proves that He certainly does.
One of the prayers that were given up afterward was regarding how in our current world, when we are able like no society ever before, to know just how amazing and intricate our universe and all of God's creation is, we are more accountable to seek and find Him and give glory to Him. It is all the more evident to us, when we see outer-space photos of the universe, in-the-doctor's office pictures of our corneas, in-the-doctor's office pictures of our babies growing within...when we know that we are made up of complex cellular structures, as are even the tiniest bugs and germs...we know that an amazingly creative God has put it all together. We are privileged to have this knowledge; just 10, 40, 80, 120 years ago, the knowledge was far more limited. Yet more people who hear of God and Jesus Christ reject and oppose Him than they did when humanity's knowledge was more limited. I don't understand why this is, but God's word said that people would fall away toward the end times, that His name would be used as a swear word, that people would exchange the truth for a lie, that they would worship the creation rather than the Creator. He is not surprised, He knew this, and yet He came to offer His life for us.
Who is God? He is love. We love, because He first loved us. He is the Prince of Peace. He is the King of kings. He is the Lord of lords. He is our Creator, Sustainer and Savior; He is the Friend of Sinners.
I think people think of Jesus as condemning. John 3:16 is often quoted, but less so John 3:17, which in the NIV version says, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." Jesus' reason for descending from heaven, a universe away, to come into our nasty insignificant world was, first and foremost, to save sinners from the penalty of their own sin. God is great--but admit it--we knew it already, didn't we!

I Hope You Drove Nice on Drive Nice Day!

I took Katie to the Department of Motor Vehicles today to renew her permit...and we saw this great poster. It's promoting a new holiday to which I am fairly confident most of the world is oblivious. I wonder whether most people noticed that on May 20th people were driving nice for a change? Because, after all, it was Drive Nice Day. I hope you celebrated it.
What if people thought that since May 20th is Drive Nice Day, that the other 364 days of the year, the inverse were true? It would be fairly reasonable to assume that if the days that aren't your birthday are your "unbirthday," then May 21-May 19 are "Drive Nasty Days." We'd better be careful, assigning one day to a virtuous behavior!
It reminds me of those roadside signs that say, "Don't Drink and Drive." Now, if those were really effective, I think they should also have signs that say, "Don't go over the speed limit." "Don't disobey the law." "Be nice to everyone." "Don't murder." Since this poster and this new holiday would indicate that the government thinks they're effective, I think I'll go into the sign-making business. (I'd be tempted to put in a few that say, "Give Connie Money" or "Mow Connie's Lawn"...subliminally printed around all the other lettering, of course.)
Think of the holidays, too! Our calendars could be just chock-full of them. "Did you know it's Don't Murder Day? I was going to murder you, but now I'm going to be nice to you, instead, to celebrate." Katie added, "It's that day tomorrow, too!"

Dreams and Visions

I don't normally remember my dreams. This morning when I woke up, I was thinking about one, though, and Tim asked me what I dreamt about. Funny when I usually can't tell him anything. It was a dream about angels. Two "men" who were angels (I don't know how I knew but I did) drove in in a convertible and asked where some family was, who didn't live on our cul-de-sac. I told them I thought they lived a couple of blocks away. Imagine angels needing to ask directions! Ha.
The next one was a cardboard angel that looked like it was made by a child; it was female (never mind that there are no female angels in the Bible), with blond hair, short, and wide, and had big eyes. She was made with sequins, and she talked, but I don't remember what she said. She was lying down in the middle of the cul-de-sac (remember, she was made of cardboard). Then two other female sequin-on-cardboard angels came along and hovered over the child-like one, and ooh'd and aah'd over how pretty she was. Pretty funny!
Perhaps I'm dreaming these dreams because I'm reading Daniel, and he has dreams and visions; Tim and I just read Revelation, too. Pretty spectacular books, I'd say! I think I prefer my silly cardboard-and-sequin angel dream to Daniel's visions of terrible beasts and whatnot. He was sick and exhausted after his; I'm feeling pretty well, thank you. Still, his gave him something worthwhile to share, and mine was meaningless (so far as I know--maybe I'll dream that Daniel will interpret it?). If that's all the response I came up with after reading these books, it would be pretty dismal. They are so rich with meaning and so mysterious in all their visions, though they also explain many aspects of them. Years ago when I was reading them I went over them with the help of various, but conflicting, resources, and ended up more confused than when I started. I don't intend to have this reading be my last--I want to go through it again with a study guide that I can trust. I don't think anyone will need a study guide to go with my dreams.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I Have to Admit I'm an Addict to Legalized Addictive Stimulants!

I can't remember why, but a few days back something prompted me to stop drinking coffee. (I wish I remembered the reason!) I normally drink about 6-8 cups every day, and I stopped suddenly. I was going to quit sugar too, but I'm glad I didn't yet. The first two days, I felt horrible. At first I didn't attribute it to the coffee, but I'm pretty sure that was the main problem. A nasty lingering headache, sore eyes, and a general sense of horribleness. Each morning now, I look around for a substitute. One morning I had Dr. Pepper. Not much, but it was strange to drink it in the morning. Then another morning Katie caught me--sneaking into the coffee ice cream. I used to do that as a kid whenever I could get away with it, more or less, but now I hardly ever eat it if someone else isn't having it too. Though when our friend Jay was over, I told him I could just keep eating and eating coffee ice cream. He looked surprised. I said, "It has all the best things about coffee, with sugar and fat! Who could not want that?"
So it hasn't been a cold-turkey no-caffeine thing. But it's having some effect on me. I guess I was more addicted than I thought. And now, instead of feeling horrible, it seems that I'm feeling better. Yesterday before Tim and I went out to do errands, I took some aspirin. Whereas those horrible days I took Excedrin (which has caffeine), normally I'll take aspirin because I have some aches and pains. As I took it, I thought, "I don't feel too bad, but I hurt a little here and there." I felt a little better than usual. In the morning I normally have to flex my right ankle around a lot before I get up, and then limp for about 5 minutes; this morning the pain there was noticeably less. Still there but not so bad. I was trying to connect what I might have been doing differently, and suddenly remembered quitting coffee. I'm hoping the effect will be as wheat was--the longer I leave it alone the better I feel.
With wheat, I think it's an allergy. With coffee, if it's not an allergy, I have to admit, it's a dependence. In either case, I'm glad I don't make coffee as well as my mom; hers is to die for and would be hard to quit drinking it. Whether it's allergy or dependence, I am thinking I'm better off without it, and not having it reduces my sugar intake as well. As of yesterday, our carafe is broken; it was in the sink too long and was bound to break there. Maybe it's a sign. (Sigh.) I do want to be living a life more fully dependent on God; if I'm dependent on caffeine, I don't want the crutch anyway. Who wants a crutch that causes a limp?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Have Yourself a Crinkle!

Katie went to family camp with two families from our previous church, as she has for the last few years. And as Gary tends to do, he rustled us up to go for one of the days there too--sometimes I go, sometimes not. This time I went. About an hour before Katie left on Friday to meet the Kackers who drive her up there, she suddenly got the bug to make not one, but two batches of cookies. The kitchen was already kind of the random-moment mess that it often is, and we didn't clean it up first, as I'd have preferred, because we were in a hurry. So it was a compounded mess after she left. Besides which, she made one batch fully but left all but one dozen's worth of the other--and it makes 8 dozen! So I baked up the rest of the cookies, and when we visited on Saturday I brought most of them along. They were a hit! I was glad to get rid of them. I know they're good, and I found them hard to resist though I avoid wheat. I had a couple...aaagh. One friend e-mailed asking for the recipe. Since I felt there was every indication it was a popular recipe, I thought I'd post it for whoever might want it.

Molasses Sugar Crinkles
1 1/2 c. shortening (Katie used 2 margarine & 1 butter)
2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. molasses
2 eggs
4 tsp. baking soda
4 c. sifted flour (sifted? Ha!)
1 1/2 tsp. cloves
2 tsp. ginger
4 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
Granulated sugar for rolling dough

Melt shortening and let cool. Add next nine ingredients and stir well. Chill (we didn't--we added another cup flour, because we forgot about chilling it and thought I'd shorted that much flour since it was so soft--maybe I had?). Form into small balls. Dip tops in sugar. Place sugar-side-up 3" apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle balls with 2-3 drops water (we forgot to, but it makes a nice crackled effect). Do not flatten. Bake at 375 degrees 10 min. or so. Do not overbake, they're better too soft than too hard. Cool slightly, remove from cookie sheet. Makes 8 dozen cookies. Dough may be refrigerated for a week or so.

We'd forgotten so many of the instructions because we normally only make them at Christmas time, and because we were in such a hurry, making them both of us together in the kitchen.

The other recipe is sort of a cheat, and yet I think it's fun just because it's so quick and people always love it.

Double Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 pkg. "Betty Crocker" (or other) super-moist devil's food cake mix
1/2 c. butter or margarine, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 c. chopped nuts
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Beat cake mix, butter, vanilla, eggs in large bowl on medium speed until smooth, or mix with spoon. Stir in nuts and chocolate chips. Drop dough by rounded teaspoons about 2" apart onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 min. or until edges are set (centers will be soft). Don't overbake; the charm is in their softness. Cool 1 min.; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Makes about 5 dozen.

It was a good time, making those cookies! Even in the midst of a mess. We could have fun in the bottom of a muddy bucket. And it might as well have been, where she was going; it was very rainy up at the campsite! Tarps were pitched everywhere, and happy campers were playing cards and eating cookies. Yup, camping is fun, especially when you can drive back home to go to bed.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Living in the Here and Now

Our pastor, who is on sabbatical, e-mails his flock occasionally with pictures and writings that would work well as a blog post, if he had a blog. It's an article relating a recent pondering, and the latest one was about living in the here and now, and not always so focused on preparing for the next thing that you don't fully realize and appreciate the beauty of life at this moment. It's kind of what a sabbatical is all about--refocusing, getting out of the hurry and the entanglements that come with everyday worklife.
I think we've all experienced events where we were so distracted by something in the past--some comment, maybe an insult or an embarrassment, a regret, a sorrow, an envy, a strife; or something about the future--a worry, any uncertainty--that we completely missed some treasure of the present. I remember a long period of time when I was so bitter at my mother-in-law that I remember more my own spitefulness than what she did to provoke it! I remember muttering to myself, arguing with Gary, and complaining to co-workers more than I remember any of the joys of that time (and it turned out she had Alzheimers'; besides, she wasn't a believer, so in two ways she wasn't fully capable of doing the optimum at any time)--those days are time lost to me, but I've learned from it how evil and undesirable bitterness is. We mutter and complain and rehearse our next clever retort as we weed the garden, and completely miss the warmth of the sun, the singing of the birds, and the budding of the flowers that all surround us; or our child says something priceless, or does a little dance or somersault in front of us, and though our eyes point in the right direction, we may as well be blind and deaf to it.
When you think about it, living in anything but the present takes many forms! When we're thinking about the future or the past, how can we focus on the moment we are experiencing, the here and now? Worry, bitterness, sorrow are all negative, damaging time stealers; so is taking pride in past successes. The Bible is replete with commands about these things. If we obey Jesus' advice, we free ourselves from the entanglements of worry and enable ourselves to serve Him like we can't if we're sinning by not entrusting our lives to Him. Paul relinquished those things from the past that he used to glory in (Phil. 3:4-11) and therefore was free to press on toward the upward call of Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:7-17).
All the world understands this concept, how wrapped up we are in other times that we miss the present pleasures and don't really live most of what time is given to us--yet it is impossible to get a perfect grasp on it, because it is time, and there is no one who can hold it. I looked up some quotes for you and myself; I tried to narrow them down, but I liked a lot of them. I wish I could claim that I found them in the actual sources (some of which I don't even recognize), the places where they were written, but...I didn't have the time. Ha! Some are wise and profound, and some are funny.

Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils. ~Louis Hector Berlioz

Let not the sands of time get in your lunch. ~Author Unknown

The past is a good place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. ~Author Unknown

Time is an equal opportunity employer. Each human being has exactly the same number of hours and minutes every day. Rich people can't buy more hours. Scientists can't invent new minutes. And you can't save time to spend it on another day. Even so, time is amazingly fair and forgiving. No matter how much time you've wasted in the past, you still have an entire tomorrow. ~Denis Waitely

There are whole years for which I hope I'll never be cross-examined, for I could not give an alibi. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960

Time is the most undefinable yet paradoxical of things; the past is gone, the future is not come, and the present becomes the past even while we attempt to define it, and, like the flash of lightning, at once exists and expires. ~Charles Caleb Colton

Time is what we want most, but... what we use worst. ~Willaim Penn

It strikes! one, two,Three, four, five, six. Enough, enough, dear watch, Thy pulse hath beat enough. Now sleep and rest; Would thou could'st make the time to do so too; I'll wind thee up no more. ~Ben Jonson

Time is what prevents everything from happening at once. ~John Archibald Wheeler

Sometimes I feel that life is passing me by, not slowly either, but with ropes of steam and spark-spattered wheels and a hoarse roar of power or terror. It's passing, yet I'm the one who's doing all the moving. ~Martin Amis, Money

But what minutes! Count them by sensation, and not by calendars, and each moment is a day. ~Benjamin Disraeli

Old Time, that greatest and longest established spinner of all!.... his factory is a secret place, his work is noiseless, and his hands are mutes. ~Charles Dickens

Time, the cradle of hope.... Wisdom walks before it, opportunity with it, and repentance behind it: he that has made it his friend will have little to fear from his enemies, but he that has made it his enemy will have little to hope from his friends. ~Charles Caleb Colton

There is one kind of robber whom the law does not strike at, and who steals what is most precious to men: time. ~Napoleon I, Maxims, 1815

How long a minute is, depends on which side of the bathroom door you're on. ~Zall's Second Law

Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you. ~Carl Sandberg

What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know. ~Saint Augustine

Watches are so named as a reminder - if you don't watch carefully what you do with your time, it will slip away from you. ~Drew Sirtors

Methinks I see the wanton hours flee, And as they pass, turn back and laugh at me.~George Villiers

Much may be done in those little shreds and patches of time which every day produces, and which most men throw away. ~Charles Caleb Colton

The Past is the textbook of tyrants; the Future the Bible of the Free. Those who are solely governed by the Past stand like Lot's wife, crystallized in the act of looking backward, and forever incapable of looking before. ~Herman Melville, White Jacket

No yesterdays are ever wasted for those who give themselves to today. ~Brendan Francis

People are always asking about the good old days. I say, why don't you say the good now days? ~Robert M. Young

We can easily manage if we will only take, each day, the burden appointed to it. But the load will be too heavy for us if we carry yesterday's burden over again today, and then add the burden of the morrow before we are required to bear it. ~John Newton

If you have one eye on yesterday, and one eye on tomorrow, you're going to be cockeyed today. ~Author Unknown

Forever is composed of nows. ~Emily Dickinson

Could we see when and where we are to meet again, we would be more tender when we bid our friends goodbye. ~Marie Louise De La Ramee

Trust no future, howe'er pleasant! Let the dead past bury its dead! Act, - act in the living Present Heart within and God o'erhead. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Psalm of Life

Children have neither past nor future; they enjoy the present, which very few of us do. ~Jean de la Bruyere

Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness. ~James Thurber

We crucify ourselves between two thieves: regret for yesterday and fear of tomorrow. ~Fulton Oursler

Chasing the past, I stumbled into the future. ~T.A. Sachs

When I am anxious it is because I am living in the future. When I am depressed it is because I am living in the past. ~Author Unknown

The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness. ~Abraham Maslow

One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon - instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today. ~Dale Carnegie

I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It's amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor. ~D.H. Lawrence

Life's a journey, not a destination. ~Aerosmith

The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time. ~Abraham Lincoln

There's a positive side to looking back as well as looking ahead. The only way we can redeem any of our part in the past is when we apologize and ask forgiveness for mistakes we have made, and to learn not to repeat them. We are told to remember the great things not that we have done, but that God has done (Deut. 8:10-20) to prepare ourselves for tomorrow. There's a balance, there's a focus. When we trouble ourselves anything other than the here and now in the negative, we're borrowing trouble from another time that doesn't truly exist for us. When we remember God's goodness and prepare and plan for proper stewardship of the future, we are improving our use of either the present or the future. That is a reasonable focus. I think we all could benefit from a mental sabbatical, from shedding the habits of getting caught in the negatives of another time, when that becomes a problem. Remember the freedom that comes with just existing in the present, and return to an unhindered enjoyment of it. What we have at this very moment is God's gift to every one of us, the only thing we can really put to use.
I got the quotes from

A Little Knowledge is a Very Dangerous Thing

I was surprised when I noticed the print on these waters in our hotel room in Spokane. I'm sure that it's good, clear water (though we preferred just to use the cheap kind), but still I think it's the ultimate example of extreme hype. Water for the soul? And you notice there's a price; water for the soul couldn't come free, there has to be a price, doesn't there? For just $2.00 per bottle, you can refresh your soul with cool clear water. Talk about taking out the big guns to sell a product!
Funny how unbelievers know just enough about the Bible to bandy around the wording in such a way that it misses the point entirely! Years ago we were up in a ski area north of Vancouver, BC, for a free weekend on the condition that we listened to a sales presentation. Gary is the ultimate nightmare at these events...he asks lots of questions. Not out of a desire to torment, as it would appear, but out of a sincere friendliness and love of conversation. The salesman is increasingly convinced he's got a big live one on the hook. He takes lots of time, goes into further detail, and gets friendlier and friendlier with us, happier and happier, until at last I say something to the effect that we really can't buy (when I can get the word in edgewise). Well, this time, one good reason I had was that the week that we went, it happened to be Gay Pride week there. I cut it short and told the man that I really couldn't see us buying a time share in an organization that sponsored such an event. He was incensed. He knew we had referred to faith, and said, "Gays are all right, it's in the Bible, isn't it? Haven't you ever heard of Sodom and Gomorrah?" I nodded. "That's where it talks about fire and brimstone." His eyes widened. He didn't have anything further to say. Of course, there was nothing more to say; how can you correct the judgment of God? A little knowledge is a very dangerous thing.
Isaiah 55:1-3 "Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk Without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me! Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David.
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Monday, May 19, 2008

A Change in Ownership

We are visiting Spokane for part of this week. What a great place! And it brings back great memories from when we used to come here years ago when Katie was little. She and I would wander the Riverfront Park while Gary worked, and we'd eat those little cereal boxes that are for travel in our rooms, and eat dinner out with Gary--it was much like a vacation but cost us relatively little.
In those days, the hotel we liked to use was locally owned, and gave lots of benefits to regular customers--they had a free breakfast; after so many nights, you'd get nights free; we just felt known and helped when we were here. That was about 13 years back. It was great fun, and we maxed it out!
Now the hotel is owned by Red Lion, and while those benefits have gone by the wayside, and the familiar and helped feeling is somewhat gone, it's still a very pleasant place and there are things we didn't even think to have access to that we do now, such as internet access. Of course it's still on the Park and within walking distance to fun places nearby. The Park was the site of the World's Fair quite a long time ago, and there's a carousel and a wagon-shaped huge slide that are still here from those days. We also used to love the marmots, little animals that populate holes in the grounds of the park--they're like little ground squirrels. We used to feed them watermelon rinds and watch them struggle to drag them down the holes. Ha!
A change in ownership is bound to bring changes. I remember before belonging to Christ, enjoying things that now I know wouldn't glorify God--maybe the clothes I wore or things I watched or songs I sang...and now I wouldn't enjoy them because of that. I've started watching various movies that I had happy memories of, and now I get offended at them and have to stop. Watching the news is different, too--I don't generally want to watch it, because I find it too often offensive, dwelling on the negative, approving sin and rooting for business and candidates I wouldn't support. The slant is on display, whereas before it was invisible! I am owned by Jesus now, and He's changed my heart and my vision has changed. Now I enjoy things I might not have enjoyed then, like reading God's word and talking with others about it, or memorizing verses, or watching movies like End of the Spear or reading missions biographies. It's a natural thing to become different when you have received Christ and the Holy Spirit is inside of you, telling you what God wants and what grieves Him. If a person says he belongs to Christ, but nothing has changed, he ought to evaluate who he is serving and pray that God would direct him, change him, make God's desires his own. It doesn't make life less fun, but more so, free of guilt and and clean.

Friday, May 16, 2008

I Don't Measure Up, but He Loves me Anyway

I love to read other Christian women's blogs. Well, for the most part I do. Sometimes I get a bit intimidated. It doesn't take long to get the feeling that other women are quite a lot better qualified than I am in how they do the whole thing: how they live out their faith, how they write, how they pray, how they remember Bible stories and relate them to their lives. If I read them and then turn to examine my own ways, I can easily see the many ways that I come up wanting. My housekeeping. My application of Scripture. My attitudes. My ability to be the friend some of my friends need. Lots of things! I do fall short. Reading them this morning made me look at things this way. I have to stop and do something else.
(A parenthetical note to my readers, if I ever have that effect on you, please dismiss it. All you have to do is come here and check around a corner or two and you'll see a way I fall short! We must remember how it might be easy to present one image online, whatever it is, and have the living reality be quite different.)
Comparing myself with others can even make me wonder why God chose me, why He would bother to redeem such a woman who doesn't make her home the really humming haven that some women manage to keep, who has more frailties than you can shake a stick at...I shake my head in wonder. And I realize that we all have our strengths and weaknesses. On a happy morning, I can read them and rejoice in the strengths of these women; this morning, though, I see those strengths and contrast them with what I am. I think my feelings of inadequacy are all the more accentuated this morning, because in three friendships yesterday I was brought to doubt my own methods...though I realize it's not about me, but various unrelated circumstances caused me to wonder how well I'm doing at being a friend to others, or even (and I rarely do this) how they perceive me and whether choices I've made measure up to their standards. Whether I'm the friend I should be might be one worth examining, but I realize the choices I have made are not between me and them but between me and God. Still, I cringe a little...
I get up from the computer to get a cup of coffee (from my messy kitchen) and look out the window. I get a lump in my throat, because looking out the back, I see dew on the grass, a clear blue sky edged in pink, and a mist that makes the park behind us just beautiful. God did that. Only God could have done it. If I open the sliding glass door, I can also hear all the various sweet calls of the birds that I heard when I was waking up this morning. Only God could provide that as well. I think He showed all of it off to me to encourage me, to show me that He loves me even when my house is a mess. He's showing off the beauty of His creation, and here's something that encourages me: I know that if I walk through that same park, there are messes in every blackberry bush and, it would appear, some disorder even in His very orderly and beautiful creation--His creation is perfect, if a little messy in appearance. The overall view is stunning, and I am thankful that He showed it to me.
Maybe it sounds a bit trivial, but it was enough for me. He loves me. I don't know why, but He does.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What Constitutes an Easy Life? Could it be a Matter of Perspective and Temperament...or...who your Spouse is

Recently we had some friends over, and somehow whatever subject we were on brought Gary to say that he had had an easy life. Not just, I assumed, in comparison to the bushmen of Africa, or the people living in huts made of aluminum scraps and pallets. I was speechless, but I've had to ponder it since then. He and I, I would think, had for 25 years had the same life, living in the same house and under what I would think were the same circumstances. It made me realize just how much perspective impacts our view of things. Was I stressing myself out to make his life easy, or was he taking it easy such that it stressed me out? I couldn't see that either case was true. Still...
Except in comparison with things like third-world type living, I wouldn't have ever thought to describe our lives as exactly easy over those years. Am I less resilient? Am I weaker? (Well, I guess in a sense I am.) Am I more negative? Less optimistic? (Probably--Gary is indomitably optimistic.)
When I look back and list the things that I see as making up a major impact in our lives together, the stressors stand out, flood my memory banks and impact the content of my writing; if you've read it you know this to be true. I remember being around 30 and wondering how in the world my grandmother made it to 92, being sure that I wouldn't make it nearly as far. I was tired and stressed! (And anemic; that was significant!)
I wonder at Gary, what he looks back and sees: probably each of our trips (and we did have some good ones, by God's grace--usually accompanying Gary on his work travel; once, Gary won a trip to Lake Louise!), the view from our old house in our crazy old neighborhood (the view was the redeeming feature that he loved about it, looking out over Puget Sound; I rarely felt I had time to appreciate it, and tended to focus on the scarier aspects of the neighborhood...), our various friendships over the years, our two healthy kids and the privilege of home schooling them...of course there were good things. Of course. And if that were all I recalled, I'd say we had an easy life, or at least a good life, too.
Many of our stressors have been the type that would more typically hit the wife harder than the husband. Of course our pregnancies and c-sections would affect me more directly; my other surgeries too; but those all affected him as well, if it were only in that he had to keep house much of the time in addition to his work. In the midst of a six-year period of various surgeries and health problems I had, Gary was head usher at church, and it wasn't until we left that church and suddenly became well that I attributed our constant flow of about 10 colds and 2 flus per year to his hand-shaking there. (He does wash his hands--maybe more now than then?) None of those sicknesses in themselves were major, but they added a dimension onto a substrata of stress, primarily mine since I would generally be the nurturer of the sick.
From his perspective, you would expect that Gary was affected as well by his mother's Alzheimers, by her death and his father's death that followed; by his aunt's and uncle's deaths; all the more by our losses of babies. Those all would seem significant even if the other stressors did not exist. He does handle it differently than I do.
In a recent sermon I heard, the speaker related how his own mother valued a husband who provided a meal on the table; he proposed that it was a universal need in the mind of wives. I don't think of the job gaps as central to our stressors, but it didn't make life any easier. It did train me to be all the more frugal, and above that, to have faith in God's provision outside of the usual means. He has always, always been faithful! We never did lack for basic provision. So in my view of that, maybe I am a complainer, a wimp...thinking of the difficulties rather than glorying in God's continual goodness.
Yesterday I told Katie about her father's strange perspective. She immediately had an explanation: Gary was 33 when we married, and had lost no immediate family members before that; his family life was generally happy and supportive. I was 23 when we married, had been hugely impacted by my father's death, and didn't feel especially happy from age 10 until I came to Christ at 29. So if you analyze anything of what we've been through, Gary's been married less than half his life, and I more than half. Since most of the stressors since the stressors in Gary's life have primarily been since we married and many have had to do with my could certainly say that I'm the monkey wrench in the cake batter of life. Gary's single brother Doug has been telling us this all along in his own way: he has a full head of hair, while their married brother Dave's hair is very thin on top and Gary has nothing but the fringe on the sides. Doug once submitted to us that the hairline corresponds to the stress levels that come with marriage. (Sigh.) Perhaps he had a point.

Friday, May 09, 2008

I've Encountered Some Thoughts Worth Pondering

There are some thoughts that I have come across regarding life in Christ, and the life of Christ--they aren't my own thoughts, so I'm not taking credit for them, but I love them, I don't think they should be missed by anyone, whether you consider yourself a Christian or not:

Let us remember that this present life on earth is the worst things will get for the believer. But for the unbeliever this present life will be the best they will ever experience. (1)

Sounds good for the believer, but the unbeliever should take warning. Think a minute...

Then, the next two thought provokers that I encountered in a sermon, that seemed related in their stark contrasting nature similar to the thought above, are in the following. The pastor who gave the sermon is relating the premise that selfishness is the biggest killer of unity in the church, and just how selfless Jesus was in becoming human for us (barely even touching upon the fact that His death on the cross was pretty central to it!):

(Quoting Philippians 2:5-6)
"'Have this attitude in yourself which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance like a man, He humbled Himself becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.' That is the mindset that he wants us to put on. We have before us an example of what is known as the humility of we have before us...the humility of Christ, His coming down as man, and being made a curse for man, and that's our example...of not being selfish, of being in unity...Turn to Genesis 3, please...what is Paul trying to tell us with this contrast? 'He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, even though He was equal...' 'The serpent said to the woman, "You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."'
"...What does the first man on earth do? 'I'm gonna do this because I will be like God.' Christ being God, knowing God's will and wanting to do God's will, even though He is God and equal with God, says, 'I don't want to be like that because it would be against God's plan'...see, the first Adam did regard equality with God a thing to be grasped..."
"Now we as humans may not see how low Christ came. When Christ came down as a human, we of course are humans, and we have a very hard picture, because we're...not God, to truly appreciate God taking the form of man. We have no idea what it's like to be God...we've never been face-to-face with an angel that you know of or God, it's very hard to get the concept that Someone sunk down to that form. But He has done two things...He emptied Himself, made Himself of no reputation; and He humbled Himself...Christ being in glory, full-blown in Heaven, stoops to the very low, to a filthy earth, to the place of sin, and leaves Heaven in all its glory, He sets aside His glory, He empties Himself from being Lord of all the world, the Sovereign, who takes the form of flesh, and a slave, a bondservant, a low slave at that, that would need to be obedient to His own laws. You see that the picture Paul is painting here is of perfect self-denial...the fact that He was made human was humiliation all by itself...Our human nature never looked so good as the day that Christ took it. The fact that Jesus took on flesh brought on to human flesh heights to which it had never been, to heights way above's never been exalted that high...I'll tell you something, the greatest exaltation of human flesh by Christ's incarnation was the greatest humiliation that Christ could perform..." (2)

Yeah. I enjoyed having that put into words that I could ponder.

1: Thomas Ice, "Some Glorious and Incomparable Promises of the Bible," Pre-Tribe Perspectives, Vol. 8, No. 10, Feb. 2004, p. 5. (That wasn't where I found it--I saw it without the credit given, and found the source online.)
2: Daniel Urroz, How to Kill Church Unity All By Yourself, a sermon,

Knowledge is Power, but Our Power is Generally Useless

Tim and I went for a walk today in our neighborhood. His favorite destination is down by the creek. I think he could sit for hours and watch it if it weren't for the stick in the mud who walked there with him. It always strikes me how poorly other people treat the area who visit. If they appreciate the natural setting, why do they abuse it? It's been spray painted, littered with trash, and the tree bark is gashed on all available trees, where various people must have used their pocket knives to show their macho prowess on them.
How long have people been carefully taught in the schools to appreciate the environment, to not litter, to love the trees, to leave areas unspoiled? I'm not even what I'd call an "environmentalist," but I am struck by their indifference. We homeschool; I've never taught a unit on not littering, on how important it is to love the trees, or on any of these things. Still, without all this special education tailored to the environment, my children have never littered (except maybe as toddlers, at what point they would have gotten their one lecture on it) and they would never think to carve into the bark on a tree. They may leave messes around the house, but that's different, somehow, and a topic for another day, for that matter. But to junk the sidewalks and trails with gum wrappers and pop cans that could so easily be carried home--what in the world? No amount of teaching helps society get past its lazy tendency to litter, and its inclination to destroy things of beauty. Teachers might as well just talk to empty chairs as to students who won't be influenced by the things they are taught.
The buzz-phrase in education, at least a few years back, was that "knowledge is power." I differ. Knowing that smoking is bad for you, that it can cause cancer and emphysema and wreck your breath and your teeth and make your clothes, car and house smell, and that it costs incredibly much money, this knowledge does not help teens in the fight against the desire to be included, to be cool among those who want them to join in the habit. Knowing that littering is unacceptable does not keep people from doing it. In spite of knowing that junk food is unhealthy, in spite of seeing "SuperSize Me," the documentary on McDonalds impact on one person's health, people consume it in quantity. In spite of knowing so many things, we act stupid, we self-destruct, we alienate others. We know, but it doesn't help. We are powerless in ourselves to do what is right for any significant stretch of time.
I remember wondering why I couldn't fix the problems in my life; my inclination was to have things go right, to fix things, to live a good life. Still everything went wrong. My relationships were all troubled; my health was bad; our finances were bad; our house constantly needed repair. I knew some of my factors in these troubles that would seem to help; still, trying to please my mother-in-law didn't work. I'd fix something on the house and another thing would break down. All the aspects of my life were like that. Nothing I could do in my own strength, in spite of any resolve, was enough to get through it, and the inevitable discouragement only made everything worse.
Where can we tap into the power to get beyond our own futile attempts, our own weaknesses? It isn't in practical, hands-on, general knowledge, though knowledge could help us make the right decisions if that were our inclination. It isn't in will power, because that can tend to be just a setup for failure. The only strength that can propel us beyond our own weaknesses is in Christ. He helped me to discover that my mother-in-law had been diagnosed with Alzheimers two years before--that in itself is an amazing story of answered prayer! He also helped me to find that I was anemic (which in itself can make a person feel overwhelmed and discouraged); He helped Katie get over her colic practically overnight. He didn't solve all of my troubles, but He sure did redeem my life from the pit! (For this life and for the life to come...His benefits in this life are just a tiny preview to the goodness of God, the benefits of knowing Him that will come into full view in Heaven.) Knowledge is power, but it's not enough in itself to compensate for our weakness, unless we will submit to Christ and come through Him to the knowledge of God. That knowledge and strength is the constant, ever-abundant power that we need for every aspect of our lives. Isaiah 40:28-31 says,

"Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired; His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary."

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

God's Greatness is Far Beyond our Finite Comprehension

I was thinking the other night of the over-arching attributes of God that I find very comforting: His eternality, His perfection, His infinity. Those are what I picture as being His biggest features. Of course, the fact that He is good is vital to all of this, but I suppose that fits into His perfection. If God were any less than any of these, we would be insecure; He would not be the God He is, and there would be gaps in His divinity. How secure we are, though! We can rely entirely on Him because there is nothing in Him that can or will fail. He will not fail Himself, and He will not fail us. We will fail ourselves and Him, but the reverse can never be true.
Surely the biggest inadequacy we have as humans is the capacity to comprehend God's greatness, the absolute nature of His attributes. We who claim to trust Him can't trust Him as well as we should, because our capacity is so small. We don't understand fully, we don't know fully, we don't even seek fully to know what we could about God, if we would only try. And we forget His faithfulness of times past. We are like grass, we are like little flowers that shrivel and die and are blown away, and He is like the great sky and the sun and the wind and the soil that surround us and stretch on past our ability to perceive, and all we tap into is the part that touches us. So we think of Him as much smaller than He is, much less eternal, much less perfect, much less infinite, much less holy and loving and good, and we think our finite thoughts of Him are great because they are bigger than ourselves (hopefully!).
He doesn't condemn us for being so finite. He just works with us, molding, teaching, and stretching us, helping us to understand so we can fathom a little of His glory and glorify Him in what we can. He tells us that He is beyond us, that His capacities are beyond what we ask or think or imagine. No wonder that Paul wrote through the inspirational power of the Holy Spirit:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

How can we come to know Him in such a way? Romans 10:17 says, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." Reading God's word will enrich our knowledge of Him. In Jeremiah 33:3, He says, "Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know." What better resource do we have than going directly to Him? And yet He makes Himself known indirectly as well; in Psalm 19:1 He tells us, "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands." He even uses frail humanity to help us! In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul says, "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ." Which also is an exhortation to follow Him closely if only for the sake of those who might be following us. I am thankful that we have good examples to follow these days! It isn't everywhere you find a person who truly lives out what he says he believes, but we know and can point to some; maybe too few for how many people we know overall, but God has provided us with good examples that give us plenty to emulate. God is great! Even our own life circumstances teach us to trust in our great God. I think of one of my favorite verses, Psalm 119:71, "It is good for me that I was afflicted,That I may learn Your statutes." God wastes nothing!
I will be praying today that I might go beyond my present ability to understand who He is and to love who He is and obey who He is, by His grace, through the riches of resources that He has God be the glory! As you see, there is plenty to learn and to put into practice.