Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Air I Need to Breathe

There is a song that I keep hearing snatches of in my head, one phrase really and it just plays over and over. It’s not one of those really annoying stuck in your head songs like Rubber Ducky or The Song That Never Ends. It is just a phrase where it acknowledges that God knows just how much air I will need to breathe. It blows me away. I never thought of that before. It’s not like my breathing is an always constant thing. I use more air when yawning or taking a brisk walk, breathing deep and really filling my lungs. At other times, that breathing is just so matter of fact, I don’t even think about it.

That amazes me. I’m sure there is some average we could figure. The human lungs hold approximately this much air volume. From that, multiply it by the number of adults estimated and we can get some sort of a figure of how much air we need. But unless we are going to drastically over-estimate, would you all mind breathing a bit slower and more shallowly? I’d hate to run out.
The creator of the universe knows how much air I will need in my life, how many sighs, yawns, gasps, deep breaths, and just normal breaths I will take. Amazing!

Friday, July 30, 2010

It’s the Little Things

I like to shop. I like to find the perfect pair of jeans that fit. I took about two years to pick out a dish set that I liked. I like to travel. I like to have the technology around me that makes life a bit easier. I like these things… but they are not the real joy of my life.

It is the little things, the non-thing things that are really the joy. It’s the big things of momentous occasions. For me, the little and big things are the sound of a little boy’s feet as he runs through the house. The color of the sky after a storm passes and the sky clears up to a blue that just looks clean and makes the whiteness of clouds stand out brilliantly. The smell of a fresh green bean picked right off of the green bean bush. Watching a fawn, still new and spotted, be allowed to explore its world for the first time just slightly away from mom. It is the sound of laughter with a friend. It is a friend you are so comfortable with that make-up, hair done, clothes carefully selected, and the house picking up not only does not have to occur, but you don’t ever worry about it because it’s just not going to be an issue. The smell and taste of the steam of freshly made hot coffee, pungently black and bitter in the nose. The feel of a hand of a brand new little life wrap around a finger. Puppy kisses that can’t help but make me giggle, as my dog tries to clean my entire face. The color of the birds, and the sound of a morning dove. Visiting just to visit and enjoying the company of a friend. Singing with the radio, signing in the kitchen, signing in the driveway, singing in the grocery store, just singing in general – can you see a pattern there? It is the feel of clean sheets and warm towels right out of the dryer. It is the smell of chicken on the grill and fresh sweet corn on the plate. It is the labor of a task well done and accomplished. It is the quiet time to listen to God. It is the goose bumps when you have just a glimpse of His awesome mightiness and love. It is the sounds of honest tears as pains are shared and not hidden. It is the sound of an argument worked through and not hidden from. It is the birthdays, anniversaries, hellos, and good-byes. It is the memories which make you choke up with emotion and the memories which come back fleetingly and startle you with their sudden clarity. It is the pain that God uses for a good purpose. It is a well fitting ball cap and the cool breeze on your head when you lift it up after mowing. It is sleeping in, and being thankful to be able to get up when the alarm clock goes off and there is no sleeping in. It is small town parades with candy and bands and fire trucks. It is back porch picnics with make shift tables and sitting on rugs on the concrete floor. The smell that is unique to books along it’s spine, I stick my nose in and breathe deep. It is a family who loves, friends who are family, and being a child of God.
It’s the little and big non-thing things.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

How is that Learned

A conversation sprang up last week about prejudice. The question that was raised is how to we learn to be anti-someone or something. I had two thoughts spring to mind. One is an adage that was well written and then merged with a musical score, “You’ve got to be taught to be afraid, of people whose eyes are oddly made, and people whose skin is a different shade. You’ve got be carefully taught.” So, definitely prejudice can be nurtured and fed, as can equality and humility of self.

Another is Harper Lee’s writing and the character of Dolphus Raymond. Dolphus tells Dill, a little boy in the book, that he is getting sick due to the injustice around him. But, that he would outgrow it in time, and eventually would be fortunate if it just made him squirm.
So which is it, are we taught by people or are we taught by life and the calluses which develop due to the bumping around life gives us? Maybe it’s both and more. We definitely can learn prejudice on a wide variety of topics from the family we are surrounded by. And, life can most definitely create enough bumps and bruises that we shy away from pushing the status quo just to avoid getting one more life laceration.
If prejudice exists (and it does), and we can be affected by (which we are), how do we overcome this? We cannot relegate others to secaond class citizenship because they are different. We may want to, and we may point out the dissimilarities. But, the distinctions and differentiations belong to us, not to God.
“We’ve got to be taught, before it’s too late, before we are six or seven or eight. To hate all the people our relatives hate….” Take a stand, take a look. Be prejudiced against prejudice.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Inventor

I mentioned yesterday that I needed to find ways to encourage and inspire myself to attain long term goals and objectives. But, how? Rewards at the end are nice, but when you are mid-way they can be sadly lacking. This started my thinking on how this happens. When I have been successful in completing something, what have I done to keep myself focused and energized? I have to become an inventor of motivation.

If I were to put on my mad scientist outfit, metaphorically speaking, make my hair stand on end, and have rows of chemicals in test tubes in the background, perhaps I could mix a formula for inspiration and motivation. Starting with a collection of the liquid energy and put a few ounces into our test tube. Then, I’ll drop in a few granules of patience which probably turn the whole thing blue. Stir in a green glob of stick-to-it-ness. It will have to be stirred quite well or that will just stick to the wall of the test tube. Place under a Bunsen burner and heat slowly. Add in a combination of the ingredients of determination, will, encouragement, and one heaping teaspoon of accountability. Remove from the heat and check for clarity. Then, spread liberally over the matter at hand, applying liberally whenever dryness appears.
For me, this takes the view of little bits and pieces. A calendar page with Shakespeare quoted, a phone call with a friend, a saying on something small, watching butterflies fly and Queen Anne’s lace stretching the little blooms up and out, the puppy who chases the butterfly while the other watches in mild amusement, a well written letter, a surprise card, listen to little feet run through the house and giggles floating back towards you, clean laundry, a good salad that someone else makes, and a cool morning breeze. They can each be a moment of movement to help me progress in my task.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Grass in the Sidewalk

I was walking up the hill to the car and it struck me that the grasses growing in the cracks of the sidewalk had withered to a very dead shade of plant burned brown. Just a few weeks ago, these plants were bright green and growing quite well. Yes, I know that sidewalks shouldn’t have grasses growing up in them without breaking the concrete eventually. I just remember noticing them because they were such a bright green.

The thing that really struck me as I continued up the hill was that I can empathize with those plants. Though this is not where I am currently at, I realize that just like those plants in the sidewalk, too much heat and not enough water makes me wilt. I need inspiration, time, quiet, noise, music, friendship, laughter, and love. I recognize that just like eating properly requires decisions and effort, so does growth. You can’t just toss out a long term goal of growth or change without planning some steps and how you will continue to re-invigorate your purpose along the way. Otherwise, you wind up just like the grass in the sidewalk, leaves dropped to the pavement, brown, and dry.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Attention Campers

Last week was Character Camp (like a Vacation Bible School) at my church. Regardless of what it is called, there are lots of kids, games, songs, lessons, and a desperate need on the part of the workers for ibuprofen by the last night. I really enjoyed this camp this year, not only due to the campers I had in my group, but largely due to the co-tent leader. She was wonderful. THANK YOU!!!

As a crowd control method in this squirmy, talkative, hyper, smore addicted bunch of kids, our camp leader would start out with bellowing a great big YOOOOO (a.k.a. yo). The kids and leaders responded in kind with YOOOOOOOOOOO. Some of the kids carried out a bit long at times. Then we received our instructions.
So, YOOOOO - attention campers, here are some camp lessons that I thought I would share.
- Smores are really good, but they taste better if worn on the face. For the very extraverted smore eater, try wearing it as a goatee.  - If you have the chance to pick your own camp spot in an Iowa July, head for the deepest bit of shade you can find with a breeze. You will need lots and lots of bug spray, but the break from the heat is worth it.  - When kids pick out meals a day ahead of time, write down their order. Something else sounds good the next day and they have completely forgotten what they ordered.  - Be dramatic and expressive, be dynamic in your volumes, be silly and laugh a lot.  - Encourage other leaders. We all need it.
- Encourage other campers. They may need it too.  - Don’t overreact when you see blood, it frightens everyone and they are already frightened to see blood.  - If there is a water balloon fight, know who has a secret stockpile of ammunition. Either ally yourself with them, or watch out for them. Unless it’s 100 degrees and then maybe you should go run through the sprinkler.  - Laugh a lot, it is a wonderful release in a tense moment and will also help reenergize you.  - Use good manners, practice what you preach, and model what you expect.   - For the lone boy in a tent of girls, he may say that he is miserable because he is vastly outnumbered, but if you give him a little extra responsibility and some extra attention, he will be just fine.  - At the end of a camp day, go home, kick off your shoes, and lay in the floor. It’s cool, it’s not buggy, and it’s a lot better than falling down from the sheer drain of the day.  - Drink lots and lots of water. Actually, the combination I found working was coffee, water, then a V8 Splash about 4, then more water.   - When you watch your teens in the youth group work hard, in the heat, for no pay and little recognition of the adults around them, you are burst your buttons kind of proud. When they get excited because they just made a little kid’s day, you are leap tall building proud. When they want to make an impact on the life of a kid and work harder and dig deeper, just in case they can, you are over the moon proud.  - Thank the kitchen workers and the clean-uppers, and the traffic controllers, and security-watchers, laundry-doers, and all the behind the scene-ers. They do more than you realize and are absolutely vital.  - As a leader, you need to dance around with the music or most of the kids won’t feel free to do so either.   - Praise lots, pray for patience, and love each camper.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Whale of a Minnow

I was listening to the radio the other day and someone brought up how it is often not the whales in life that really are a threat, instead it’s getting nibbled to death by minnows. I loved the imagery that brought out in my head and it reminded me a of a notebook I had had in high school. There was a saying on the front, something like “Any idiot can face a crisis, it’s the day to day living that really wears you out.”
I won’t go far as to say that everyone can face a crisis, but it really is the minnows that show you who you are and what you are made of. Minnows might be taking on a task you would really rather not. If I complete it and complete it well, that is a demonstration of my character. If I do not care to do the dishes, because it is not a favorite chore, then doing them anyway and doing them well is dealing with the minnows. Probably I get more nibbles on minnows that are about planning and perception than dishes. I like plans and to have a clear understanding of what is coming next. When that isn’t there, in some circumstances, I can feel myself grow frustrated, anxious, or a combination of both. Perception is another minnow area for me. I am single and over thirty and have actually been asked – “Why aren’t you married yet?” From which I perceive the intended or non-intended question to actually be, what’s wrong with you. How do you even answer that question? I always wait for someone else to have the same stunned look on their face as I do, but sadly they almost always look interested in the answer. Then the minnows come and nibble. Why do they think I’m not married yet? Why is there always a yet at the end of that sentence? Why is that even being asked? What are they thinking about me? You can imagine, this gets into quite the cycle until the minnows are forming their own little watery whirlpool about my head.
But, before I go down the minnow whirlpool of perception, I try to remember that this is just a minnow nibble. This is not being eaten by a whale. I brush the minnows away and move on.
We all have minnows. They are the pesky people, attitudes, frustrations, dislikes, and pet peeves of our life. As a group they can do some serious damage. So, we need to keep the minnows under control.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Celebrating Singleness

I read an article a few weeks ago and loved one little piece, it wanted to know why we do not celebrate singleness. It struck a chord with me, as a single woman, could not answer that question. I would like to be a wife and mom, but that is not currently part of my life. Which takes me back to my question, why don’t we celebrate singleness? We celebrate marriage, showers, anniversaries, receptions. We celebrate children with showers, birthdays, and many wonderful activities and moments. But, besides a few girls nights out, we don’t really celebrate being single. Just an interesting thought…

Friday, July 23, 2010

Under the Rug

I am familiar with the expression “Sweep it under the rug.” In other words, just remove it from sight and hopefully whatever IT is, IT will take care of itself, die a natural death, and dissolve from being under the rug. Whatever rug these people have must be pretty impressive. If I sweep something under the rug, all it does is create a little bulge in the floor. They must have a different kind of rug. If I continue to sweet things under the rug, I will have a little bulge and then a bigger bump, until it is big enough to catch my toe on and fall. Eventually, it will look like a beach ball is under there, and that just doesn’t look right at all and will make the rug fall funny on the floor.

Instead of sweeping things under the rug, where they will be tripped on later – because they do not take care of themselves, die a natural death, and dissolve, these things must be dealt with and either put way or removed. It is not always an easy thing. To the contrary, it is often uncomfortable. However, after the first anxious minutes have passed, it is often my experience to grow more comfortable. Soon, even some nervous laughter may be heard.
Don’t sweep it under the rug. Take the rug outside and give it a good dusting.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Are You My Mother

My mom has been joking around lately and I have laughed and warned her several times that she might just end up on the blog. She asked me earlier this week if I were an alien… Thus, here we are.

Actually it was kind of a funny conversation that I can remember bits and pieces of now. My badge for work doesn’t like me. Really! It will stay activated for maybe a month or so before it dies some sort of electromagnetic card death and go ka-put. That is mildly inconvenient. So, I have to ask for a replacement. After going through about five of these cards, I have come to just keeping the card in a bag and avoiding touching it. It has now lasted almost two months.
So, if I make key cards not work, am I an alien? Or the better question is – since she is my mom, is she an alien? And of course, she wanted to know what planet I would be from if I were an alien. Not Mars, it’s too hot. Saturn has beautiful rings. I am especially fond of Orion and Andromeda. Maybe it’s a place in one of those galaxies. Perhaps I should ask for the family genealogy of alien-ness and figure that out.
Be careful – you may just wind up in a blog. And it may be about aliens.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Staged Face

She stood on stage. She had the smile perfectly practiced. Her poise came through and she seemed to speak calm and sweetness. Every movement was practiced, the way the microphone was held, the tilt of the head. To the most casual and even slightly mediocre observant watcher, she appears content and happy. It is in the eyes that you can catch a glimpse of the girl who is hiding behind the stage face. The doubt of her self-worth, the pain of hurt, and the uncertainty of growing up are present behind the mascara and eye-liner.
She is beautiful. And she doubts this. She is capable. And she doubts this. She is loved. And she doubts this.

I saw through the stage face. I have worn one as well at times. It is the face you put on when you don’t want people to comment, to state the platitudes which are well known and overly used. They are handy things, perhaps not good – but handy. Especially when having to face a crowd that is hostile, overly emotional, or just blasĂ©. It is a helpful skill when stage lights are in your eyes and you can’t see the crowd at all. Yet, they think that you have singled one of them out specially. It is useful even when dealing with other tasks, which are unpleasant and require some sort of interaction. Yes, useful – but not always good. It isn’t always good because there is no one to disrupt the influence of the lie, to help us relearn truth.
Look beyond the stage face, look in the eyes. Let someone see past yours. Then, the healing can begin.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Celebrating the Differences

I know someone who is so gifted in the kitchen. She can look at a pantry full of raw ingredients, mix them together, and come up with a wonderful concoction. Another one is so talented in the area of writing. His ideas come across the page clearly and I can practically smell and taste the different things that he describes. Another can take a guitar and make it talk; he can somehow transform the wood and string of the instrument into a creation of sound.

No matter what the strength or ability is, it is so nice to be able to celebrate these differences. There are different ways to think about this. A natural tendency may be to look at someone else and think that you are not as good at that, therefore worth less. Take for example, my friend, who can make something delicious in the kitchen and then shares it with those around her. I could look at this and think that I am not as gifted in this area and resentful. But, instead I want to be in her kitchen, I do enjoy the smells and tastes that are there, though not nearly as much as the fellowship and fun we have chopping, slicing, and talking. I want to sing with the cousin and uncle who can play a guitar, making it sing and talk, dance and walk. I cannot play a guitar, but I love to sing along.
There are so many different capabilities that people have. I want to celebrate the differences.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sweet Hour of Prayer

When I was in high school, I lived in Florida and was part of a small church there. It was a humble sanctuary, nothing terribly ornate, but it was clean and nice. Our pianist played Sweet Hour of Prayer many times during congregational prayer. It wasn’t distracting, but instead was softly played on the higher octaves keys and complimented the pastor’s voice as he led the congregation in prayer.

Yesterday I sat in church and listened to the same song played on a piano in the higher octaves. It is a different church, a different pianist, even a different arrangement of the song. But, the moment I heard it, I was taken back to the Florida church. Then, it struck me that they were worshipping the same time we were, being on central time. Maybe they were even singing Sweet Hour of Prayer right at that moment.
What a wonderful thing it is when we realize that the worship of God is occurring around the world. Not just in a wave of Sunday services across time zones, but in moments of praise and worship as we delight in the God who delights in his creation. The hour of prayer, the time we spend praying, is sweet. Especially when we are in the midst of that time with others.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dirty Cleanliness

Yesterday I was helping in the church garden. It is my first time out this year to help weed. I enjoy going, but my calendar has been full and I haven’t made the additional time to fit it into my priorities. I do know that when I go out to the garden, I will find fellowship and dirt. This time was no exception. Gathered with several other people, (including the teens of whom I am very proud of to see working), we started in and declared that the weeds lives were numbered. Good bye grass plants and creeping charlie, good-bye prickly weeds and wild morning glories. Hello dirt and orderly rows of plants. I saw many hands, including my own, caked with dirt. Dirt caked into the crevices of my hands and packed under my finger nails. The garden raises produce to share for free with the community.

Washing my hands later, I was thinking of the phrase “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” Somehow, it always evokes a Puritan-esque woman with her hair pulled up tightly into a bun, and her skirts arranged just so. Contrary to some beliefs, this isn’t a Biblical quote. And looking at my hands, I was grateful. They were filthy. The creases of where my hand was bent stood out like white lines against dirt stained skin.
The truth is, many times when we put our hands in to work they come back dirty. To encourage and grow others, means to not shy away from the mess of life but to dig right in. I need to go find my nail brush and see if I can’t get another layer of dirt off. Dirt that was worth the work.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Invention

It hit a heat index of 122 this week! One hundred and twenty two very hot degrees! Walking up the hill from the office to the car, I smiled and felt my cheeks touch the rims of my sunglasses. Even the rims were hot! Sitting down in my car, I turned on the air conditioner full blast. It wasn’t until I actually pulled in that that air started to cool down. I stepped into the house and it felt so good. What a wonderful invention air conditioning was.

I wonder what the reaction was when people first started working on air conditioning, or any other invention. I know some inventions, many rather, have met with resistance and speculation. Others were welcomed openly. Some have passed through so quickly that we may not have even realized that there was a change occurring.
One generation sees an invention and it is something new and strange. The next may be seeing the third or fourth generation by-product and the initial invention is now out-dated. How wonderful is it that the inventors have pressed on, taking risks of failure, and came up with such creative things. Who would have imagined – a machine that cools the air. On days of 122 heat index – thank heavens!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Teacher

I have seen signs occasionally that say, “If you can read this thank a teacher”. Teachers are very important people. They spend countless hours working on projects, papers, lessons, activities, and cajoling unwilling students to be motivated to learn something. The phone calls, e-mails, counseling sessions, and preparation that go into forming a student are a gift.

I had the opportunity to visit with my eighth grade science teacher this week. A lunch went quickly as we tried to get caught up. I have many fond memories of her class. I remember science being fun and something I could understand. I have always struggled with math, and as science advanced the math concepts were often something which caused me to not understand the theories. But, with a firm grasp of the materials and a passion for learning, I found out that I could learn science. I remember experiments on electricity and discussions about space.
Mainly what stands out for me though is this woman helped me to adjust to a new area, a new culture. It was one that felt very different, and I really felt out of place. I was missing Murray, Kentucky and my friends there. Then in comes this woman who loves NASA, as do I. She invited me to the Physics team. I was so overwhelmed, these were the really smart kids and I mean really smart. But, I had a blast doing different experiments. It is her faith, her solidity, her caring about friends and family that has become more dear as I have grown older.
Then, on a trip through the area she went out of her way to share a time and catch up. I am honored. I can read and I do thank a teacher. But, that is not the only thing I have been taught.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Procession

I was part of a funeral procession earlier this week. It was traveling from the graveside to the church, to celebrate the life of a good man and the beautiful legacy he is leaving his family. It struck me as the cars moved along, that this procession is such a fitting thing to do. Cars moved out of the cemetery and onto the road. Cemetery’s are sad places, but for those who know Christ it is more the grieving of change as the believer is taken to heaven.

I was in-between a white car and a bluish grey car. We pulled out of the cemetery onto the road. We traveled together, headlights on. Then, at our first intersection, another car was added. It turned off a short while later. A few more cars and a truck were added shortly after. One pulled off and another traveled on with us for a while more. Others just passed through the line, moving across the intersection and never joining us. We turned at the road for the church, found parking spots.
It struck me that this is so appropriate for life. Some people are with us from the beginning and to the end, through the entire journey. Others join us along the way and then travel with us for a little while. Some just pass through in a moment and then are gone again. Some join us part of the way through and then stay the rest of the time. Impact can be had throughout, even with those shortest of encounters.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Joy in the Morning

I have been having strange dreams lately, which is not all that strange for me. They are rather unsettling and I wake up feel disconcerted. They seem to center around conflict, which I also find unsettling. I have come a long way in learning to deal with conflict, but it still not my favorite thing to deal with. The thing that strikes me each and every time, is that my feelings of being flustered and a bit tense in the stomach from a dream fades in the morning.

I am reminded that the new day is truly new. It is not promised, it is not mine to claim. It is a gift and unique. I am also reminded that though there are effects which carry through from the day before; this is not necessarily a bad thing. There are good things that carry through to the new day. A gift of grace, friendship, life, and possibility all carry into the new day. I am reminded that though the new day is not promised, that that the things which are are rock solid and carry through each moment. There is joy in the morning, even when there are bad dreams in the night.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Singing in the Kitchen

After a large party, you can feel that you are much too tired to clean. At least, I know I can be. After my graduation party last year, it was time to clean up. More than anything, I really wanted to curl up in a quiet spot and just rest. I enjoy having people around, as long as I don’t have to be the focus of everything. That gets to be really overwhelming for me. But, I digress.

One of the things that help the time go quickly when the back and feet start aching, is to have someone start a song. “Blessed Assurance” the words rang out so clearly and strong. Before I knew it, my feet and back still ached, but were eased by the sounds ringing around me. The hymns kept building, the sound in the kitchen swelling and subsiding as different people moved through the room to put away various items. Before we knew it, it was cleaned up. The food was put away, the first round of dishes were put up. “Amazing Grace” finished the night as we held the last notes of amen. Then, turning off the lights, we each found a spot in the living room.
It was a special time, but it doesn't require such a moment to sing in the kitchen. Instead, it is something common place. Reflecting the warmth of the kitchen, the welcome of the hospitality shared there. Welcome to the kitchen, come and join in the song.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Church

I know that “the church” as in the body of Christ is not made up of a building. But, that doesn’t mean that I don’t love visiting different church buildings that are part of the body. To see different things that they are doing, the differences, and the overwhelming similarities are all very heartwarming to me. I recently visited a small Baptist church in the town I live in. It was for an occasion which is sad and happy. Sad because a friend is being said good-bye to, happy because he is now with Jesus. But, we congregate in those churches to say good-byes, welcome new babies, witness marriages, cheer at VBS closing ceremonies, and participate in worship.

Pews, chairs, benches – some covered in cushions, made of burnished hardwood, or metal folding chairs can hold us as we squirm during a long service or hold a sleepy toddler close. Designated areas may hold tissues to wipe away our tears, places for hymnals and Bibles. It may be turned into a child’s writing area as they color during different functions.
It may take the form of a little white steepled building, or perhaps a living room, or even under a big shade tree. The church can be in any of those places. It doesn’t require walls of a certain color or stained glass. An organ and piano are not necessary. But, God’s presence in the midst is absolutely necessary.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Time

I have wondered, only occasionally, what time looks like. In my mind, it takes a hodgepodge shape, kind of like the joke about how camels were made. You know the joke, it’s a horse made by committee. I don’t think time is a horse or made by a committee, but I do think that it’s a strange blend of parts. Part leopard because it can go so quickly that you can’t keep up. Part owl as it is stealthy and moving when you don’t even notice that it is passing. Blend in a few roller coasters for up and down moments, and the thrill of the climb, and the hurdle of the slide down. A kaleidoscope for eyes, because the look of things changes over time, and the perception of time itself changes over time. A nail and a hammer is in one hand, as time holds you in place and it can be painful. But, in the other hand is a bandage because time can also heal. Time is such a strange creature, changeable and speeding and then crawling.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Winston

We have quite the menagerie of animals in the backyard. They aren’t pets per say, as in go up and pet them. But, they are little furry and feathered creatures with personality and distinct characteristics. Our newest animal arrival is a big black crow which has become known as Winston. His feathers are not shiny, they just seem to soak up light. He’s a big crow, who likes to land about five feet away from the other birds and squirrels and then eat any leftovers he might find. I love the way he struts around, as if he were kind of the birds. Then, every once in a while, Winston will discover a treasure! Perhaps an egg or over-ripe fruit, then amazingly enough he seems to stash the entire thing in his beak and fly off.
Welcome to the club Winston.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sharing Cookies with Jesus

My house smells like oatmeal cookies right now. Oats, sugar, apple sauce, eggs, butter, cinnamon, and salt all mixed together in a bowl and then placed on a cookie sheet. Heating up the oven to 350 degrees, and placing cookies inside soon the whole kitchen smells sweet.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of making cookies with a young girl who loves discovering the outdoors and playing chess. She mixed and measured, adding sugar and butter. When I handed her the apple sauce to mix in, she made the funniest face. Apple sauce in cookies? The cookies turned out nice and sweet, but it was nothing compared to the moment when our discussion of loving our neighbors (Matthew 19:19), took a twist. She wanted to share cookies with Jesus.
It struck me how we often make worship such a complicated thing. We want the music to be just so, the sanctuary to look just so, dress just so, but in reality worship is something that is not about the style of music or the look of the sanctuary or those great new shoes. It’s about acknowledging God and sharing our gratitude with him. It’s just offering the oatmeal cookies up.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Small Towns Small Things

America is made up of small towns, lots and lots of small towns, with a few large towns tossed in for variety. Each small town has some commonalities, but they are all unique as well. Each has its own flavor and personality. There is an incredible cook, an artist, a story teller, playgrounds, schools, churches, and flowers. But, each one is a little different and each is special.

Life is also made up of many small things with a few big things tossed in. Remember that saying a few years ago which became so popular? Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff – and its All Small Stuff. Well, they got it somewhat right anyway. It isn’t all small stuff, and some small stuff shouldn’t be sweated and worried over. There are some great big things thrown in there as well. The majority of my days go by with small stuff, little things, minute gestures, seemingly trivial and insignificant decisions and conversations. Then, you look back over years of the small stuff with a few big moments thrown in and realize, it was all important!
I watched the sky clear over the Mississippi River last night. The rain came and then went, the clouds parted and then gathered again, hanging lower and greyer. Sparrows came and watched from the eaves of the shelter, hoping that there was food to be shared. A light rain pattered onto the pond and was caught in the light. Ducks splashed in puddles and their muffled quacks rang just above tapping of the water rain onto the water pond surface. Small moments, but important - enjoy the small stuff, it’s important.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Just the Right Time

There are some books that are like old friends, their words are comfortable and familiar. For me, The Hiding Place, a story of Corrie Ten Boom is one of these books. The story of Corrie, her sister Betsie and their family is full of wisdom. There is also great tragedy in this story. For me, knowing that this is real and about real people makes the hurts so much deeper and more real, but the grace and forgiveness becomes even more beautiful.

Corrie is a woman who grows up learning of God through her life and her family around her. She learns of a God who loves her absolutely, who guides her through various difficulties, and always supplies the strength that is needed at the moment it is needed. If you have never read the story of this family, I highly recommend it and I won’t give away the plot here.
But, I will mention just one story. Corrie and her father are traveling on the train. Corrie is asking her father questions, trying to determine the meaning of different things. Some of the questions are very big questions for a very little girl. The father ponders the question for just a moment, and then reaches for his bag. Asking Corrie to carry the bag, she reached for it and found that it was too heavy. After telling her father that she couldn’t carry it, he took it from her. This object lesson was used to help Corrie understand that some things are too heavy for us. But, when we are called on by God to pick up that burden, he will provide the strength we need at that time. Until then, we do not have to carry the bags which we can only drag.
I find that a very real comfort. I have a God, a Father, a Friend, who not only knows when I will need strength, but then goes about providing just what I need, exactly when I need it.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Post Fourth of July Observations

I enjoy the Fourth of July. The food, music, fireworks, and parades all based around this day. This year, I walked in a parade, helped host a “Bond fire” bonfire, and seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning. Today, I head back to work and my normal schedule, happy to get back into the routine – and will need to recover from the weekend, which really was fun. I just had to jot down a few things, observations from the fourth of July.

1. Children who dress as Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer with little stick fishing poles and rubber worms are really cute. Especially, when they stick the stick into a truck’s hub cap.
2. When throwing children candy in a parade, it’s important to have quick reflexes. There were some I was sure that were going to gnaw on my leg if a sugar rush did not come their way quickly.
3. There are multiple methods to getting this candy in parades. Some are to have little children who have no clue that there is candy coming dressed really cutely. Screaming caaaannnnnddddy is another, though probably overused. Others try the polite approach, Candy Please – Thank you. A cardboard sign that said, Throw Candy Here was probably the most original.
4. Adults and elderly people like candy as well – don’t forget them.
5. It’s just not the fourth without the Boston Pops on TV. If you turn it up really loud, you can pretend that you are there.
6. Hamburgers are required fourth of July cuisine.
7. Little girls in crepe red, white, and blue dresses are really cute and really do require lots of pictures to be taken by parents.
8. People talk more when it is dark and there is a nice fire. I’m not sure why, but a fire seems to be just a different atmosphere.
9. Small and large towns across the entire country were lit up with fireworks and sparklers, I’m sure it would have been beautiful from the sky.
10. It’s a fun holiday – I need a weekend to recover from my weekend.

Monday, July 5, 2010

More Than an Icon

There is a statue in the harbor in New York, standing on Liberty Island, which is known worldwide as a sign of freedom and welcome. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” From Emma Lazarus’ pen, the words of The New Colossus do capture part of the spirit of this great country.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
The founding fathers came together, men with purpose and hope. Some were not intending to split with Britain, but to restore more of a balanced representation. Some came even as the poem indicates, long before the Statue of Liberty, the great colossus to which is referred, was created. Merchants, farmers, seekers of liberty, religious freedom, freedom from the kings’ wars, the of an entrepreneur, the gambler, the one who wanted a new start, they all gathered in and founded small villages. They grew to towns and then colonies of small towns. Each colony area contained its own distinct flavor, culture, money, and laws. They were like many tiny little internally bound, externally separated countries, residing near each other. It was this mix that became a loud, argumentative, hopeful, hard working, big dreaming amalgamation of our earliest central government.
I still wonder that it occurred, that somehow out of sheer determination and grit and stubborn courage, these men and women led a nation to be birthed. Through the war that followed and the mix of cannon balls, dirt, black powder, blood, and ink, our nation was developed. The legacy of this particular generation was not just a battlefield memorial though; it was that a woman poet in New York, with Jewish community ties, could write such a poem of her homeland. It was that we celebrate with fireworks and barbeques. It is that we vote for our leaders, and be they good or bad; we do not remove them from power via a coupĂ© or put new ones with an assassination and forced military empowerment. The legacy exists when an American flag is on bags of rice and flour delivered throughout the world to feed the poor. The legacy is a lofty one, built of the finest materials and washed in the blood and dirt of struggle, the flour and butter on the early homesteads, and our steel and circuit boards today. We honor the legacy – Happy Birthday America.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Winding Down the Clock – Winding Up the Fire

This week kicked off a life changing event for around four thousand teens and their youth leaders in Columbus, Ohio. It is called Challenge, a national youth event put on by the EFCA church denomination every two years. Imagine a conference/concert/mission trip/team building event packed into one week and you have a glimpse of Challenge. I went to something similar in high school, called Life. Life was a yearly event brought by the Christian Missionary Alliance denomination. These events are intended to be more than just a big youth party, a frenzy of speakers and stuff – they are intended and purposed to be life changing moments for those in attendance.

Imagine that life goes along and then something pivotal happens. You can choose to what angle it will move you, to a large or small degree, but you are in a moment where movement can occur. And not just any movement, but big movement, this is the moment that all of those who have worked so hard in speaking and performing and preparing are really striving toward.
Saturday, they are heading home. Packed into buses, vans, airplanes, and cars, all of those who spilled into the city to partake of this time are now leaving. As the group I know moves back across the US in the vans, I have been thinking about their prayer requests and about how they will have a life change.
A substance used to exist, for the most terrible of battlefield tools, Greek fire. Greek fire was a chemical reaction; put a series of materials together, mix, add air, throw it onto something and it would catch into a brilliant flame of searing heat. It was not put out with water, but burned until it was out of fuel. As the teens and leaders come back, they will have a new life and enthusiasm with them. How could you not with that kind of environment? For a whole week, speakers, helpers, and leaders have poured themselves into you, with the express purpose of loving you as God loves you.
The return home is the time when you start finding out if the fire within you is a regular fire or Greek fire. You start facing daily challenges, must now decide to put changes into practice, deal with adversity, face disappointments and frustrations, and experience life. Along the way, there are buckets of water and various other substances that are thrown onto your fire. Other methods are tried to put you back as you were. Don’t be fearful of running out fuel for the fire, God is the ultimate provider and is the creator of all. The fuel will not be removed, though it certainly may change over time.
I am so looking forward to hearing the stories of this week. I want to hear about the songs and stories, the hotel and city, the unexpected and delighted. But even more, I am looking forward to hearing the stories in five or fifteen or twenty five years. I want to hear stories of what the changes were in a life from pivotal change, what kind of fire was lit, and how life was altered, altered forever.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Month Old

Last night I had the opportunity to spend time with a one month old little girl. Wow – talk about a tiny little person, beautifully made. She opened her eyes and looked and me. She grinned … gas… Ah yes, infants.
Babies are so amazing, they come into this world so helpless. Over time, they learn to walk, talk, run, play, and many other things. As I held this little girl and listened to her make baby crying sounds and blow bubbles, I was thinking of the day my grandfather was in the hospital for heart surgery. It was a major surgery and serious. The heart had several major blockages, open heart surgery was going to be required.
The day of surgery, we went into the waiting room and there was quite a crowd gathered. Cousins, uncles, aunts, and friends – they were all there to lend support to each other. There were some cousins distant enough that I didn’t know who they were. An uncle sat down next to me and started explaining who everyone was. It was a comfort.
Another comfort came when a cousin handed me her baby. I believe he was a bit older than a month, but here he was sleeping in my arms. It was a comfort holding that baby, feeling the warmth and movement as he shifted in his sleep. It was a comfort because it reminded me of the cycle of life. We are born, helpless and requiring care. We grow and require instruction, nourishment, and various amounts of shoes as we outgrow them all. Then, suddenly, our shoe size evens out and we arrive at adulthood. We still grow, still need instruction and nourishment, but now we can go and seek it out for ourselves. We grow older and slowly we become less steady. We come into the world helpless, and we leave it the same way. So, I held that baby and it was a comfort, that life continues.
The little one I held last night, she is just a few days over a month old – she is beautiful. She is life going on.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Country Girl – Maybe…

I was mowing yesterday. Everything was going fine and then…. A snake a few feet away started moving! A snake!!! I screamed. I don’t like snakes. It’s not like I was even on a riding mower with some height separating me and the snake. It was a push mower, me, ground, grass, and snake. I screamed.

It took off at a pretty good speed, and I just stood there yelling at it – “Get out of the yard.” “And stay out!” The grass was moving around it and it’s black head was above the grass, navigating through the strands like a swimmer. If you don’t mind snakes, kudos to you. To me, if it’s a snake, it’s bad. I don’t care if it is poisonous or not.
The rest of the mowing time consisted of jumping at several sticks and screaming at a very frightening piece of bark that jumped out at me and of course looked very snake like. All right, it didn’t look snake like, but all I saw the movement out of the corner of my eye and that was enough. I screamed again.
I like being outside, I enjoy being out in the country. But, I don’t think I’m quite a country girl.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Swing Sets and Subtle Lies

Kasey was her name, a blond girl who was playing by herself on the swings in the elementary school playground. I, in my moment of fashion independence and with Punky Brooster influence, was in double layer socks of different colors. She looked lonely, I offered friendship – we were in kindergarten. I don’t remember that first conversation verbatim, but it basically consisted of let’s play.

We tend to think when we are lonely that we are alone in that, compounding the loneliness. When we are hurting, we think that it’s unique to us and we are the only ones who have such pain or suffer in the silence or complaints of life. When we suffer at the hands of someone else, we often think we are alone and that no one else would understand. What a subtle lie that is.
Yes, a lie! Come on, think about it! It’s like a mirage that is made of tissue paper. From far away it looks pretty convincing, but up close, we can see that something is just a bit off. We all get lonely, we all have hurts, we all feel hurt due to someone else. Does the type of injury or frequency or severity vary? Yes. Does the type of remedy needed or timeline for healing vary? Yes. Are we alone? No!
I think it was a little easier in kindergarten, but the lesson learned then is still a relevant one today. Offer friendship, you may just get something wonderful in return.