Saturday, July 31, 2010

Random Saturday thoughts

I used to sit at my desk with a pen poised over a blank sheet of paper.  I could almost taste words that desperately wanted to escape from my mind.  After a bit, I would find myself still in the same position, no words on the paper, the pen still hopeful and I knew that nothing was coming.

That's kind of how my day with this blog has been. 

Blank screen in front of me, haunting my every move. When I'd move away from the computer, it was waiting for my return ... no words, nothing important to say.

I searched deep into my subconscious, desperately trying to find a memory, a story, a tale, a glimpse of anything that might be interesting to relate.  By 8:45 this evening, I recognized that there wasn't much going on up there.

While I was driving home today, I got a text from a friend who was pretty freaked out by some harsh, judgmental words that had come at him.  That began a processing cycle in my mind of an entire post on judgmentalism.  But, I don't have the words all in place yet, so it will come out another day.

In other news, Anne Rice has 'quit' Christianity.  The author of many terrific vampire novels rediscovered her Christian faith several years ago and began writing novels about Christ and other religious ideas. 

She announced on her Facebook page that she was quitting Christianity.  She said this:

"For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being "Christian" or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to "belong" to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten ...years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."

There's been quite a lot of discussion throughout the media about this, much positive, some negative.  In her articulate way, she has clarified for many the things that make being a true Christian nearly impossible.  I can't disagree with her words.  There are pastors who believe that they can change Christianity from within and I'm hopeful for them.

At some point, though, we do have to draw the line and set forth our beliefs about the ugly side of religion.  She has done that and continues to do so in her dialogue with her readers.

If this builds a media storm and causes people to consider how they act as a Christian, I think we've won a small battle.  If not, and only a few people pay attention to what is happening, that's fine ... a few people will consider their actions and their response.

How do you feel?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Shadows of Monsters

This morning, Seth Godin posted a short blog post entitled "Every monster has a big shadow."

That has actually been resonating a bit with me today and has brought to mind a lot of experiences in my past that taught me that lesson quite clearly.  I was always more frightened of an encounter or an experience before I was actually in the middle of dealing with it.  I built the shadow of fear in my mind long before I faced the monster.

I remember one of those piano solo contests I put myself through in high school.  Mom and I had driven to whatever high school in Iowa was hosting and I was completely terrorized.  I knew I had the music memorized, I played it well, I just worried myself sick because failure wasn't an option for me. 

The year before I had played my solo and before I got to the end, all of my extremities had begun to shake.  I made it through the piece and did well.  No one else knew what kind of shape I had been in.  I'd long since learned to hide my terror from an audience.  This year, though, the piece was much more difficult and if my arms and hands were going to shake, I was going to mess up.

I was a mess. Mom and I went into the bathroom before I had to go on stage and she prayed for me.  I asked her to specifically pray that my arms, hands AND my legs wouldn't shake.  She did.  I went in, played my piece, walked off stage and directly into the bathroom.  I thought I had done a terrible job.  She followed me in, held on to me as I sobbed and sobbed and told me that she was really confused because it was one of the best performances of the song she had heard me give.  I managed to get out a little laugh as I told her that while my hands, arms and legs didn't shake, my stomach shook plenty! 

The specter of a low score hovered over me for quite some time.  I didn't know how I was going to explain that to Dad, to my piano teacher, to my friends.  I built up an immense shadow for the monster of failure in my mind.

My score that day was great.  I was a crazy girl.  There was nothing to worry about, but my fear of the shadow of the monster nearly undid me!

We probably all remember the night monsters in our bedrooms.  Shadows from the trees outside would play over our walls and become bigger in our imaginations because we didn't understand what we were seeing.

And even as an adult, the shadows grow in our minds throughout the night.  My absolutely worst times of fear and worry occur in the middle of the night when there is nothing I can do.  My mind isn't working at its best and I allow fears and worry to overwhelm me.  In the light of day, the shadows are shoved aside and I can see the monster for what it is

Seth Godin's closing line is "When in doubt, ignore the shadow."

It's a great attitude to take, but I'm not sure that it is always possible to do.  I'd love to be able to take that advice and live a life without fear of the monsters that haunt me, but that just isn't going to be real.  They're there, right in front of me. 

The shadow of the monster IS always bigger than the monster itself, and our imaginations and fears and worries make the shadow grow.  I don't know how to ignore the shadow.  I have learned, though, that facing the monster as quickly as possible not only proves to me how small that monster really is and gives me enough ammunition to recognize the next monster as a small being.

It isn't easy to ignore the shadow, it isn't easy to face the monster with a great shadow looming over it, but to move on and grow, both need to happen!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Conversing with God

This morning as I stood out on the porch taking in the glory of a beautiful day, I chuckled and said, "Good job, God!  Your creation is pretty cool."

I waited a moment and said, "And really ... thanks a lot."

It was at that point, I began thinking about how we talk to God.

It's difficult to be comfortable in a conversation with God because it all comes out sounding fairly one-sided.  And what are we supposed to sound like when we actually say words to Him?

For many of us, we learned that Jesus taught us to pray, saying "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name ..."

I'm pretty certain that the words 'art' and 'thy' weren't actually used in Greek or even Aramaic or Hebrew.  Yet, we grew up thinking that if we didn't use proper Old English verbiage and phrase our prayers just right, God might not actually pay any attention.

Does God want us to sound like priests and scholars when we speak to Him or does He want us to just be ourselves, bringing Him our reality .. out loud?

Now, the other side of this coin is that we do need to see Him as something to be awed and revered.  The moment we make Him less than the Creator and Sovereign Lord, we reduce Him to a checkout clerk in a fast-food joint ready to take our order and deliver something to us whether we want it or not.

Don't spend too much time thinking about this, though.  The time would actually be better spent just having that conversation with God. 

Maybe it has something to do with the development of a relationship.  When I first got to know my junior high band instructor, she was Miss McMeekin.  I worked pretty closely with her and she taught me a lot.  Even when I left her and moved on to high school, I spoke to her using her title and we maintained a professional (student/teacher) relationship.

As I grew older, though, our relationship changed.  I participated in a singing group with her, spent time in her home, got to listen to her dreams and hopes for the future.  I shared my life with her and over time, we began to know each other better and I grew comfortable calling her Sandy.  My conversations became much more casual and much deeper.  She and I no longer had to hold each other at conversational arms-length because we didn't know each other and needed to keep things on the surface.  We were able to share deeply.  But, just because the relationship changed, that did not mean that my respect for her lessened.  In fact, it became magnified as I saw the reasons she did what it was she did.

That's the way we approach God.  As our relationship deepens with Him, we don't feel required to keep things at a professional level - trying to ensure He knows that we respect Him and only conversing with Him about spiritual things. 

The entire Bible is God opening up to us with His side of the conversation.  All we have to do is start inserting ours into the spaces between the words, the breath at the end of the sentence and the flip of  a page turn.

The easy conversation comes from a deepening relationship.  It's something I look forward to every day.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I don't like spiders and snakes ...

I'll be honest, some days it is tough being a girl.

This morning I woke up, did a bunch of reading and research, then decided it was time to take a shower.  So, I walked into the shower room to warm up the water and glanced down at the floor.  Hmmm, that is MUCH bigger than a bug.  Oh, for pity's sake - it's a dead bird.  A small sparrow ... dead ... in the cabin ... on my floor.

I walked out (without turning the shower on), sat back down and waffled back and forth between tears (fury? fear? shock? who knows!) and panic.  I could NOT figure out who was going to take care of this for me.  The stupid thing couldn't lay there until the weekend when Carol and her friends came up.  I had to be able to take showers between now and then.  I couldn't ask my friends up here to come deal with this for me. I needed to take a shower before I left the cabin.  Sigh ... so, I sat and pondered, knowing full well that I had to build up my courage to just handle it.

...and I did.

I've never really felt comfortable about dealing with creepy, crawly, ugly, dead things. 

Like the time back when Carol and I were living together.  One day I'd gone to the basement to do laundry.  We always had to pull the lint out of the lint trap in the utility sink where the washer drained.  Carol followed me down to help fold and hang clothes.  I reached my hand into the drain to grab the lint and promptly dropped everything and began screaming and screeching.  Carol, being the ever supportive sister, began screaming and screeching with me, having no idea what had just happened.  Finally we got to full-blown laughter at ourselves and I explained that I had just picked up a sopping wet, dead mouse.  That news brought more shuddering and moaning.  One of us had to deal with the mouse.  I'm sure it was me.

We have bats in the attic at the duplex (by the way, when Max moved in - Carol moved out ... same place, same rodents). 

Oh, and Max and I got a cat after he had trapped nearly 20 mice one spring.  The cat stopped them from ever entering the place again.

Back to the bats.

One afternoon I was taking a nap on the couch.  The duplex next door was being gutted and prepared for new tenants.  They had definitely stirred up the attic and whoosh - a bat came flying down the stairs and circled the living room (where I was taking a nap on the couch).  I pulled a blanket over my head and screamed for Max.  He came flying down the stairs, recognized the impending threat of a bat in what was left of his hair and stood on the steps wondering what in the world to do.  I told him to get a broom - well, he would have to walk through the living room to get the broom.  All of a sudden, my fabulous cat, Howard jumped to the top of a wing chair and flew into the air, bringing the bat down to the floor, where he promptly batted it around until it probably had a heart attack.  Max did have to collect the poor thing and get rid of it.

Long, long ago, Mom, Carol and I were sitting on the back breezeway in the parsonage in Council Bluffs.  It was a fabulous location - they had built out the space between the garage and the house, roofed it, put carpet down and glass doors on either end.  Since the weather was obviously gorgeous, we had all the doors open and were enjoying the day.

Until the moment that 5-6 garter snakes decided that the party was inside and they wanted to join us.  Carol started into the house - probably to get something to drink and saw them.  She screamed and ran back for a chair.  Mom and I both began screaming and pulled our legs up off the floor. We tried calmly discussing what we might do to rid the room of the snakes.  None of us could come up with anything that made any sense.  (we weren't in our right minds, I promise)

Fortunately, it was nearly lunch time.  Dad walked home from the church, expecting lunch to be ready.  He always walked in the back door, but this time he was surprised to find all the women in his family huddled up on chairs, nailed in place by several garter snakes.  After a few snide remarks, he picked them all up, took them back out to the grass, dropped them off and asked for his lunch.  We were all more than willing to handle it.

So, no, I'm not what you might call 'brave' when it comes to things that slither or skitter or fly around me.  I know that they're God's creatures and I'm glad that He enjoyed creating them.  I also know that as humans we have chosen to live among the animals of His creation.  Sometimes I just wish that they weren't in such close proximity.

If I were a boy - would all of this be easier?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Yup, a rant. Do you like clusters or empty spaces?

I've said before that I don't like to do negative ranting on this blog ... it's not really fun for me to put my bad attitude out there on the internet for everyone to see.  However, I do have one thing that drives me out of my flipping mind and there's nothing I can do about it.

Imagine, if you will, an empty restaurant ... or an empty theater ... or an empty parking lot.  Why in the world do strangers feel the absolute need to place themselves right next to me?

My mom pointed this phenomenon out to me years ago and I've just laughed and laughed every time it happens to me.  Honestly, there has never been a single time that it hasn't happened to me. 

I choose what seems to be a non-priority spot, out of the way, as innocuous as possible.  Before I know what has happened, someone sits down at the table or booth right next to me.  There are 15 other tables around, some clear on the other side of the restaurant, but the only place they can see to seat themselves is directly beside me. 

A friend and I went to a late showing of a movie several weeks ago.  When we walked in, we were the only people there.  Cool!!!  We found a couple of seats and parked ourselves.  We weren't directly in the middle, we didn't pick front row seats, we didn't even sit on an end.  Just a couple of random seats.  The next couple of people that came in - sat in our row!  Oh, they moved down a couple of seats, but right with us.  We looked at each other, shook our heads and laughed.

I've pulled into a rest area, needing a 5 minute power nap.  I know better than to park in front of the building, so I move down a ways, hoping to avert some of the sounds of car doors slamming and children racing around.  There are very few vehicles in the rest area and 6-7 spots on either side of me.  The VERY next car that pulls in - pulls in right beside me and chaos is released.

If you are one of those that NEEDS to plant yourself right beside someone else in an empty restaurant or theater, please explain to me why in the world it is so important to you.  I'm certain the bogeyman isn't going to attack you if you are seated several places away from me.  I'm also fairly certain that I'm not going to be able to protect you if he did.

There's my rant for the evening.  Next time you enter an empty space as the first person there, pay attention to what happens next.  Unless I know you very well, I promise not to sit right next to you.  But, start watching to see how many times you end up being clustered together with lots of people with empty spaces filling the rest of the room!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Bored? Read a book!

I just read a status update on Facebook from a friend that said she was BORED (sorry girlfriend, it was my fodder for a blog tonight!) !  I chuckled.

When I was growing up, that was one of those things that we never admitted to in front of Dad.  If he even thought those words might come out of our mouths, he would find something for us to do and you could be guaranteed that it wasn't going to be nearly as much fun as sitting in front of the television.

Somehow, though, I hear my sister say this a lot when she doesn't have a million things to do.  She'll sit down for an hour (after having run full-throttle for three months) and inform me that she's bored.  I just want her to take a nap, for heaven's sake.

I'd give just about anything if I could allow myself to get to a period of boredom. I've managed to create multitudes of projects that are in various stages of completion (or non-completion as the case may be).  It frustrates me to have so many open activities hanging around out there, but before I can get moving on one of them, I've found something else that has a shorter shelf life and requires my immediate attention.  Before I know what has happened to me, there are then three more projects to add to the "I'll do it when I have time" list.

Then there are those tiny little things that amuse the heck out of me.  Right now I've decided that it's entertaining to quietly put my bare foot beside the sleeping cat - this is Ichabod, the mean cat.  He'll wrap his front (clawless) paws around my foot, drift off to sleep and then all of a sudden some sensation will change and he'll jerk awake, grab my leg with his back (full claws) paws and try to attack my toes with his teeth.  He won't break skin, but I'm just certain at any point that restraint might break and I'll be in trouble.  Why don't I move my foot?  Because I like the entertainment.

Tonight's post comes to you from a girl who probably shouldn't be as tired as I feel.  It's kind of difficult to wrangle intense, important thoughts from the brain this evening.  I see that sleep will come soon - or at least I will be reading my Kindle. 

Ok, I have to share a HIDEOUS response I read tonight on a post from Lifehack.  The original blog post was about how the writer had given up television over the last years and had found so much more time to do things they enjoyed doing.

This response made me snort a little.  Obviously this poor girl does NOT read books.  "Good told stories?"  "Where (sic) do you get good fiction from?" 

Rxxxx Hxxxxx  I don't know, i like good told stories. Once in a while you find them on TV, too. where do you get good fiction from (Yes, there are books, I know...)

I know that I'm being really snarky about this - but this usually was my quick response when Dad was checking to see whether we had enough to do - I buried my face in a book as quickly as possible.  This poor person hasn't seen the inside of a book since ... well ... ever?

And that's enough snarky for this week.

Mom used to tell us that if we were bored - read a book.  I'll just take care of the problem before it gets here - gonna go read a book.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Getting tired of "I Can't"

A couple of weeks ago while a bunch of us were sitting at lunch, someone asked why we hadn't done some crazy thing.  All of a sudden, excuses and reasons were pouring out of our mouths and the person who asked the question stopped us.  "All I'm hearing from you is, 'I can't,'  why don't you figure out how to just do it!"

That response stuck with me and has haunted the nether regions of my brain ever since.  I hear myself saying those words and I hear people around me constantly coming up with reasons and excuses why they aren't successful or grabbing for their dreams.  There's always something.

Seth Godin calls it our Lizard Brain.  That little part of our brain that tries its best to keep us safe, to keep us from risking anything, just in case everything falls apart.

I've fought with my Lizard Brain a lot this summer.  It seems as if every time I turn around, terror sets in,  memories of past failures arises, and a deep certainty that I'm going to disappoint people if I don't do everything the way they hope and expect sets in.

At this moment, I have scores of reasons for me to not move forward with changes in my life ranging from financial to emotional, friends and family, ahh heck - I can even present you with a perfectly plausible excuse based on my age and the fact that by the time I'm finished, I will have a difficult time finding a job - who's going to hire someone at that point! There are people who need me to stay put or those who have certain expectations and will be disappointed when I move on and make decisions without them. 

Every single reason that you can come up with to NOT make a change in your life is valid.  But, at some point, you (I) have to be honest with (y) ourselves.  If we want to do great things, we have to set the excuses and reasons aside.  If we want to do small things that are going to bring change and are difficult to accomplish, we have to be honest and recognize the difficulties.  Then we have to simply make a decision whether moving forward or staying static is appropriate for our lives.

If it is time to move forward and make changes - whether great or small - then stop making excuses and offering reasons for remaining in stasis.  Recognize that fear will try to stop you (and me) from moving forward and be ready to confront that fear with the final outcome.

Plot out the steps required to attain a goal and then begin to take them - one at a time.  Some days you will leap forward and some days you will be stuck in a single square.  Those days that you're stuck are the most difficult because you have time to think about whether or not this is such a good idea.

Be sure to have announced your goal, your dream to plenty of people who will hold you accountable.  When I was beginning to process on whether or not I wanted to do something drastic with my life, I actually didn't tell anyone.  Until I was ready to commit to it, I didn't want to make a big deal out of something and then disappoint my friends and family with my failure to move on it.  As soon as I began to tell people what my plans were, I knew that not only was I committed to the change, but I was now responsible to them.  That was the point of no return for me.

Is it time for you to look outside yourself to the world?  Is it time for you to encounter something that is bigger than yourself? Maybe it's just time for you to open up your mind and heart to begin listening for a still small voice that offers you that dream.

Whatever it is - stop using the words, "I can't."  When you hear yourself say them - no matter the circumstance - swallow them.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

No, I've always been forgetful!

Sometimes I have the WORST memory.  Simple words are gone from my vocabulary.  Names escape me. I forget to take care of important things.  I've tried a million different types of reminders and at this point the only thing that is going to work is some type of neon flashing sign that hangs out on my glasses reminding me of all the things that I somehow can't even remember to notate!

The other day I wanted to pick up something at the store.  I could see the friggin' bottle in my head, I knew exactly what it did (wash delicates in the sink) and for the life of me I couldn't remember the name of the product.  I was making out a list of things to purchase and I finally went to Google and typed in "detergent handwash delicates).  Oh yah ... not so helpful.  However, it completely changed my mind as to what to purchase.  I found a couple of sites telling me that my body wash would be perfect and then my clothes would actually smell like me.  What a great idea!

It was probably 6-8 hours later as I was thinking about something completely different.  All of a sudden, I just let loose with "Woolite!!!"  Yah.  Thanks, brain.

I have been worried for a few decades about this loss of memory so have told all my friends and family that when I get old and seem to worry about it overmuch, they are to remind me that I have been losing words as long as they've known me. 

Heck, I remember those conversations better than I remember the words!

This morning (afternoon - noon - whatever), I was talking to the senior pastor of the church that hosted Greek in a Week in Iowa City about my future plans.  He's younger than me and has two Master's degrees - one of them is the Master of Divinity, which is what I'm going after.  I was laughing about my concern over my mental agility and how it's difficult to learn languages at any age (other than as a child), at my age this could be nearly impossible.  I told him I wanted to be done with my education before I turned 60, just so that I didn't have to worry about keeping those neurons firing at a fast pace.  Considering that the M.Div. will take me 3 years (at a minimum) and a doctorate could take anywhere from 4-6 years, he told me that I'd better hurry!

I guess so!!!

When I turned 50 last year, I was informed (and then made it my mantra) that 50 was the new 30.  That means that 60 is the new 40.  I plan to have lots and lots of years ahead of me.  I'm actually kind of glad now that I wasn't a crazed drunkard through high school and college (there were just a couple of years in my early 30s) and didn't end up killing millions and millions of brain cells.  It looks like I'm going to need them all from here on out!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Greek in a Week - Day 2 - YES!!!

Another day, another verb to parse.  Oh for heaven's sake, I'm not even sure that I could explain to you exactly what that means.  My brain is worn out!!!  I really think that I'm going to try to find an online grammar (English) course to take before I start classes this fall.  How is it that I never got this information pounded into my head?  How did I miss this?  I've learned more grammar in the last two days than I've ever known ... ever!!!

The only way to comprehend how the Greek language operates is to have these basic ideas solidly placed in my brain and it is going to kill me to get it all up there.

Today was such a great day, though.  We got through a lot more information and by the end of the day we were looking at the Greek translation of scripture and working through an understanding of how the entire thing comes together.  There are certain triggers and patterns that inform you what is happening in a sentence, so learning to see those and make the connection immediately is quite gratifying.

After everything was over today, I booked out of there and headed back to the hotel.  As I was driving down the road, I glanced up and saw a Greek restaurant!  We'd been talking about gyros and tsatsiki sauce today and it seemed like a perfect way to end my day.  There was a drive-thru, but it was on the other side of the restaurant from where I had pulled in, so I was trying to figure out whether to go in and eat, maneuver my car around the entire place or what.  While I was processing, a little white car drove in and I thought I recognized one of the young men from the class.  By golly, it was him - and he had the professor with him!  They got out, saw me sitting there, waited for me to get out and I invited myself to join them for dinner. 

What a wonderful treat for my day.  We talked about all sorts of crazy things and I asked a million questions.  As we talked, I realized that he was talking to me as if I was a peer (though a lowly, uneducated one at this point) in his field.  And then I realized ... I have a field (of study and learning)!!!!  Ok, that's really exciting to me! 

I asked questions about the craziest things - like how long will it be until I am able to discern the different writing styles of the New Testament writers.  He told me it would take about a year and a half and then said that he still has trouble discerning the differences in the styles of Matthew and Luke.  We talked about some of the different letters of Paul and whether or not the difference in styles is that predominant, enough to make the debate of authorship worthwhile.  We talked about the debate regarding the style of John's Gospel and the Revelation.  Did John really write the Revelation?  He assures me that the debate is worthless, the style is obviously John's.

Do you know how cool it is for me to talk to someone at his level about these types of things?  I nearly came unglued right there at the table!!!

I'm hoping to get a good night's sleep tonight.  Last night I turned the air conditioning to 'frigid' and was thankful for all the blankets on the bed.  That meant that when I walked outside into the steamy atmosphere at 7:15 this morning, I was more than a little startled.  Thank heavens the temps have cooled off a bit and the humidity has released its hold on us!

Tomorrow's class will be filled with incredible, wonderful things as we translate all of 1 John.  He says it's the first book that most beginning Greek students translate.  And, he said that if you tell people you are learning Greek, the first question they ask to measure your capability is "Which books have you translated?"  So, we'll have a book under our belts and a jumpstart on the New Testament.

I can hardly wait for tomorrow!!!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Greek in a Week - Day 1 - Yikes!

What a day!!!  I mean, really ... what a day!!!

Instead of driving to Iowa City last night and spending a night in the hotel, I chose to stay at the cabin one more night, save the cost of the hotel room and drive out of there bright and early this morning.  Well, that was an interesting decision to make based on the circumstances of the morning!

I set the alarm for 4:15, promptly woke up at 2:15 and drowsed for a couple of hours.  At 3:30 or so, I heard thunder and saw lightning, but the rain wasn't terrible.  I needed to be on the road about 4:45 ... being on time for me means being at least 15 minutes early.  At 4:35 the rain was unleashed in mighty forces upon the earth!  What?  Fortunately, I had put most of my stuff in the car last night so all I had to grab was my laptop (it has a leather bag, no worries), my purse and the cookies.  I dashed out and in the 10 feet from the cabin to the Jeep, I was drenched all the way through.  This didn't bode well.

For the next 1/2 hour I was driving through the hardest driving rainstorm I've been in since last May.  It was incredible.  And it was DARK!  I kept praying for the sun to rise and since I wasn't going to wake Max up to ask him what time that was going to bed, I was just in the dark (yup ... that's what I said).  I couldn't have taken the distraction to call him anyway!  About half a mile from the cabin I saw bright eyes, stopped the Jeep so that a gorgeous buck with a huge rack could pass in front of me and headed for the highway.  I drove and drove through the rainstorm thinking that if I had to deal with that for the next 3 hours I was going to just fade away and forget it.  By the time I got to the Interstate, my fingers were in pain from gripping the steering wheel, my knuckles were white and my shoulders were taut.  I began driving south and within five miles the rain let up and it was as if I'd never been in a storm at all.  The rest of the drive was beautiful and I got to the church in plenty of time. 

As I drove on Highway 6 through Iowa City, it finally hit me that I knew exactly where I was and exactly where I was going.  Though it has been 26 years since we lived in West Liberty and before that in Sigourney, I was in my home territory.  This is where we shopped, this is where my cousins lived, this is home!  I pulled in feeling pretty happy.

The Greek in a Week class is a small group. I suppose there aren't too many crazy people that want to kill their brains in a short period of time. The professor is incredibly brilliant - its fun to watch his mind process on things.  The morning filled up my brain, it took a moment for lunch and I have to admit that by the end of the afternoon, I was pretty close to panicked.  I have a desperate passion for ancient languages and understanding scripture and early church fathers in the original languages and I get really worried that at my age my brain isn't agile enough to process all of the information in an orderly manner so that I can learn this stuff.  Yup ... panic.

Don't worry ... I'll move past it.  Giving up is not something I want to do.

This evening I decided that I was going to fully treat myself.  Dinner by myself at Iowa River Power Company.  I don't often eat by myself, but hey ... I didn't think to make plans with people and I really wanted to go somewhere and not have to think of anything at all, just allow them to take care of me.  And they really did.  I was seated so that I had a perfect view of the water rushing by:

The waitress took great care of me - she was so calm and sweet and peaceful, I felt like I had entered a spa and was having all my needs met.  The food was extraordinary and I was able to just sit back and allow my mind to melt around me a bit.  I read a little on my Kindle, watched the pigeons (oh yah - two were making out by my window ... hmmmm, that's a first for me), loved the force of the water moving and calmed myself.

I'm back in my room.  The air conditioner is running as high and as cold as I can get it.  I plan to snuggle under those covers tonight and sleep like a baby.  Tomorrow is another intense day, but I can hardly wait!  We're going to start digging into the first chapters of the Gospel of John ... in Greek!!!

I love learning.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Can't wait for tomorrow

Tomorrow I will be up at the crack of dawn to drive from the cabin down to Iowa City.  I can only feel good about this because it's a shorter drive from here than from Omaha ... and I'd much rather sleep here than in a hotel room.  I'll be there for a couple of nights anyway.

I am so excited about this little trip, I could just pop.  This morning I was preparing for the next two days by cramming Greek vocabulary into my poor little brain.  As I got into it, I started crying and weeping.  While Carol tells me it's because I'm hormonal ... menopausal (just shut the heck up), I'll only accept part of that.  This truly is my passion and it just turns me inside out learn this language!  So much so that I'm really worried about breaking down during the class time!  If I get too excited about what I'm learning, I'm going to completely fall apart - it's the only way I know to process my emotions.  Dancing a jig is probably inappropriate, so I'll do my best to weep quietly. 

Ancient Greek is the language that Plato and Hippocrates spoke, Homer wrote his epic poems in this language and everything that I know and love about the New Testament is in Greek (with a little Aramaic on the side). 

The vocabulary we are learning over the next few days will help us get into some major portions of New Testament scripture and as I learn the words for light (phos) and darkness (skotia), first (protos) and last (eschatos), trust (pisteuo), faithful (pistos), hope (elpis), day (emera) and night (nux), I see portions of scripture coming together in my mind.  It's more than I can contain!!!

I question myself on a regular basis about making the decision to go further with my education.  But, a friend told me this morning that 'it was time for me to give in to what has been waiting there for me in my life.'  She's right. 

That doesn't mean I won't panic or question the decision - that's what I do.  However, I know that this visceral, emotional reaction is something that is extremely honest within me.  It's how I always react when I see God working in my life or in the lives of those close to me ... almost as if those emotions are His way of reminding me just how close He is to my heart.  A simple touch and it breaks.

I'll let you know tomorrow how the first day went.  It will be a solid eight hours of intensive learning and I can barely wait.  If I can't wait for this to begin, I'm already warning you that I will be leaping out of my skin when classes finally start on September 7th. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Walk on the Moon

My brain has been so wrapped up in Greek today preparing for this class this weekend, I absolutely have nothing interesting to say!  How sad is that.  But, the good news is - today is another one of those days which received a written nod from my mother.  I posted it last year on this date, but it's good enough for another read.

Forty-one years ago we put men on the moon.  That's a pretty grand achievement.  Here's what she wrote about that day -  July 20, 1969.

The black night sparkles
With the brilliant gems set
In its obsidian crown.

Above, limitless
Space stretches, a challenge
To the minds of humans.

Man has conquered space.
Now he walks the moon
Amid the gems of night.

He has within him
The power and glory
Of God himself.

Man walks the moon and
Down below, night children
Stalk the ghetto streets.

Thus the paradox
Of man's infinite mind.
He may walk the moon.

But he fails to heed
The cry of anguish of
His fellow mortals.

Little lower than
The angels, the psalmist
Sings. How much lower?

So far to go to
Reach the angels, so much
Farther than the moon

Margie Greenwood
July 26, 1969

Monday, July 19, 2010

Studying = Sleep

I think I might have developed the habit in junior high.  I find it odd that I still have it.  Whenever I study, I get sleepy.  Every single time.

This Thursday I am attending a wonderful class - Greek in a Week.  It's actually only two and a half days and I'm pretty sure it's going to kick my butt.  This is the same professor that I took the Greek course from a year ago.  He's quite amazing and come to find out he also teaches a "Latin in a Week" course.  Gonna look for that next summer.

He teaches this course all over the United States and I couldn't believe it when I finally found one in Iowa City!  I've been wanting to do this since I discovered it was available, so this is truly wonderful.

I'll be taking Greek as part of my coursework this fall, so I am looking for this to give me a refresher, a kick start ... all of that stuff. 

This afternoon I began processing through the pre-assignments he emailed to the participants (overnight last night - I really haven't been procrastinating).  At one point I finally had to lean back in my chair, rest my head on the back wall and just sleep. Yup ... studying makes me sleepy.

I have 125 vocabulary words he'd like us to memorize, but since Bible software has become such an integral part of our study these days, the memorization isn't quite as important.  I'll go through the words - some are new since his original class, refresh the ones that I knew at one time and practice my pronunciation ... in general, that's not great for me.  All those crazy accents ... gotta learn 'em!

The thing is - we've bastardized Greek so badly that what I'm used to saying when I read a word is not at all what the word should sound like.

Just so you know - the letter 'p' is actually 'pi' (you know - 3.14159265).  But, it's pronounced 'pee.'  We see the word gamma - it's actually the third letter in the Greek alphabet and he wants me to pronounce it as gahm-mah.  Sigh ... You know that name "Zoe" that seems so cool?  It is cool.  The word means 'life' in Greek.  But, the accent is on that last syllable.  Zo-eh'.  Oh yah ... kickin' my butt.

I posted a status update that I was going to be whining and complaining this fall when I actually start classes and was reminded that I was making this choice so I shouldn't whine.  Oh yah - that's right!  But, I have to say ... as excited as I am to be learning again (and you can't imagine how truly excited I am), I also know that of all the information flowing into my mind, there's a good portion which will escape me just at the point that I need it for an exam or a paper.  THEN, I'm going to complain.

This afternoon as I began going through the Greek words and listening to the professor as he read through 1 John 1:1-4 in Greek (expecting me to begin practicing my pronunciation and understanding), I had a hard time sitting still.  I was so thrilled to be back in learning mode again.  The only way for my body to release the excitement since I didn't get up a dance a jig (I was watching a video, for pity's sake), was to get all teary-eyed. 

I can't wait for the journey to begin - fortunately, I have a little jump start this summer to tide me over until September 7th gets here!  And here's hoping that a lot of 5-10 minute naps will get me through this process!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Profound thoughts - or not ... (NOT)

Ok - so once in awhile, I choose to go to the 'odd.'  Today I need just a little break - I'm pooped and my brain has refused every single attempt at intellectual.

Oh, I thought about writing a deep thought-provoking post on growing up without air conditioning, or maybe one about how heat and humidity are but a part of the transitional cycles we all live through.  Then there were the profound thoughts I had about snakes, bugs and rodents. 

It all came to a shocking halt as I pulled a fresh 8 oz. package of cream cheese out of the refrigerator.

I adore cream cheese.  And this adoration is shared with my sister.  We use cream cheese as a condiment, a topping, a recipe ingredient, and lately it's been perfect as a vehicle for getting pills down poor Leica's throat with no problem at all!

There's nothing better than cream cheese with ketchup on potato chips, or spreading cream cheese on toast or jamming orange crusty cheetos into the cream cheese (and leaving orange trails behind). 

It really is one of those things I can't live without!

And while I'm at it - cottage cheese is another thing that I have a hard time not purchasing for my refrigerator.  When I was growing up we had milk products delivered to the back door.  Oh, we loved the days that happened.  A couple of gallons of milk, a container of cottage cheese ... and all of a sudden life got good. 

When I moved out of central Iowa, I didn't realize how much I liked the taste of Anderson Erickson milk products!  I couldn't get my hands on them as easily in Omaha.  One day I found the cottage cheese at a local grocer and nearly jumped out of my skin, I was so happy.  Then, Max found the milk at a Quik Trip.  But, alas, both of those are gone. But, joy!  I can get them in central Iowa again.  I'm under orders to bring home AE Cottage Cheese to Carol whenever I can. 

It's the little things.

So ... what is it that you can't live without?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The incredible toothless dog

Yesterday the poor dog (Leica) had most of the rest of her teeth pulled.

Four years ago, she was a rescue from Kansas whose owner listened to a new boyfriend and asked the vet to put her to sleep.  The vet pleaded with her to allow him to find a home, so she simply released ownership of the dog.  However, she had taken such poor care of the little girl during the nine years she had her, that the vet could only pull the teeth that were in the worst shape and ensure that we knew more teeth pulling would occur.  There was no way to recover from the damage.

Two years ago, we pulled a bunch of teeth and yesterday the rest came out.  Ok ... she still has five, but they are in random places around her mouth and will never allow her to crunch hard food again.  They're pretty solidly in there and the doctor says that until they absolutely have to come out, there's no reason to do more damage to her poor mouth.

It's soft food from here on in.  Which is actually kind of funny because it's always been a treat for her.  There's no punishment in this at all on her side of the equation, except for the fact that post-surgery is miserable!  Since they had her under, I asked them to clip her nails because the two of us both cry a lot whenever I have to do that.  So, I brought home a dog last night with a sore mouth, probably sore feet and still loopy from the anesthetic. 

I was thinking about how she will simply adjust, without complaint, to the new limitations on her life.  Once the pain of surgery is gone, Leica will not think twice about having no teeth.  She won't whine about it or look at me accusingly when I give her soft food and find soft treats.  It won't occur to her that it's a big deal. 

I wish I was more like that - to be able to understand that when life places limitations on me that can't be changed or removed - I shouldn't complain and whine. 

Don't get me wrong, if there is a good way to change something, I need to move forward.  But, I still shouldn't complain and whine - right?  Right!  That behavior gets me no where.

Today I'm thinking about a great life lesson I've learned from my dog. 

...unless of course I invent doggie dentures!

Friday, July 16, 2010

It's just fiction ... not a world-changing book!

There's another blogger that I really enjoy reading.  Jonathan Acuff over at Stuff Christians Like.  He's got a book out and even shows up every once in awhile to write a column for CNN about Christians. He writes a lot of satire and if you don't like that, you aren't going to like his stuff.  But, if you can keep a bit of an open mind, you will sometimes laugh and other times cringe when you recognize yourself in his writing.

Yesterday he wrote a post called "Hating Harry Potter, giving Gandalf a free pass."  Holy smokes.  I loved this.

A few years ago, my pastor came into my office with an email that he had received asking Christians to boycott the movie "Golden Compass" because the author questioned the authenticity of Christianity.  Well, what he was actually going after was the strictures that the 'church' places on us, but when it comes down to an author questioning faith, it is not something we should vehemently oppose ... it's a challenge we as Christians should be ready to address.

When Dan Brown came out with the "DaVinci Code," an entire subgenre of books were written to combat the ideas he set forth in that bit of fiction!

I love to read fiction - all kinds of fiction.  It has been an integral part of my life since I was very, very young.  Fiction has helped me define the world.  It opens my mind to new possibilities and exposes me to the thoughts and ideas of others.  In reading fiction, I discover grand ideas, subtle nuances and expressions of thought that I couldn't come up with on my own.

But, sometimes it is those radical - out there - types of thinking that scare people into accusations and ugly threats.  That narrow-minded reaction to new and odd ideas just incenses me.

Do you know that for centuries Christians have tried to make decisions on what should or should not be read - heck, even written? 

In late September, the American Library Association celebrates "Banned Books Week," a reminder that intellectual freedom is important.

It occurs to me that in America we find it horrendous that China and other countries don't allow their people access to information.  The internet is monitored closely and only those things that the government deems appropriate are allowed into the country. 

To be honest, there are several books that I wish didn't exist. I find them disgusting in their portrayal of Christ and Christianity.  But, at the same time, I am grateful that these books give me a chance to intelligently speak about why I can't stand them. 

"The Lord of the Rings" was written by a Christian - we don't know about J.K. Rowling's spiritual beliefs.  Philip Pullman (author of "The Golden Compass") questions Christianity, Dan Brown questions ignorant, blind faith.  Some of these things intrigue us, others scare us, maybe the fact that we are intrigued by magic and darkness scares us just as much.

But authors will always be there to challenge our thinking whether we like it or not.  They write because ideas are flowing through their mind faster and need to be exposed to the world.  Just like television - we can choose not to read their books. 

It occurs to me that Stephen King scares the bleepers out of me and I choose not to read his books because of the terror it instills in me.  But, I'm not going to boycott his books because I believe they go WAY over the top with fear and horror.  It's fiction, for goodness' sake and I can recognize that. 

I love my books.  I love Harry Potter and Gandalf.  I love paranormal fantasy, science fiction, dark mysteries, thrillers, I adore WWII and Cold War spy novels and love stories.  Every time I read a book, I get to the end wishing there were more to the story because I love to watch an author build a world and its characters.

I hope that for the most part, we are all sensible enough to recognize that fiction is exactly that - fiction ... not a new way to express truth ... fiction.  If our minds grow because we learn to look at the world with eyes that are bigger than before we read the book, great.  If we are simply entertained for a few minutes and can ignore the pressure and craziness of the world around us, great. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Dead Sea Scrolls and me

Today was an out of the ordinary, fun day for me.  I took off this morning for St. Paul, MN and the Science Museum of Minnesota to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit.  I love driving, I love driving through Iowa and it was an absolutely gorgeous day. 

I have been reading about and caring about the Scrolls since the late 70s / early 80s when there was still a lot of controversy regarding who owned them and when there were still many of the scrolls in private hands and not allowed out for researchers to study.  Yes, there was a day that I thought I wanted to be an archeologist.  25 years later, I've managed to release that desire - my knees would retaliate in some awful way, of that I'm certain.

The first thing that I saw, though, was the IMAX film "Arabia," filmed by a young Saudi Arabian man who has spent years in the US at film school.  He returned to his home and explored the land, the people, the history and the future.  If you get a chance to experience this film, grab it.  I learned a lot. It was fascinating to see how different western civilization looks from varying perspectives.  I'm guessing that a lot of what I was taught in high school about the beginnings of education, science, etc., is just plain wrong.  That was exciting!!!  (No, I'm not kidding - it was really exciting to see how we continue to change our outlook on history as we learn more and more.)

The exhibit itself was very well done.  There is a lot of history in that area and it has to be nearly impossible for us as Americans to comprehend the incredible depths that it plumbs.  The people of that area saw Jerusalem as the center of the world.  Three major continents / land masses meet there: Asia, Africa and Europe.  The cradle of civilization is in that area, major empires came from that area and all managed to interact with that tiny space we know as Israel. 

However, as short a period of time as our American history spans, as Christians, we reach back into ancient Judaism and the beginning of time, so tracing this history brings me great excitement.  The first portion of the exhibit attempts to explain the time period, religious implications, people and area surrounding the Scrolls.  I suppose it was a little frustrating for me as I kept thinking that I knew this stuff and I just wanted to spend time with the fragments themselves.  But, there were some great pieces of information that I was able to glean from the historical journey.

In the film "Arabia," the young man explained how a Bedouin's word is sacred.  They don't lie and they don't steal from you because their lives wouldn't permit it.  This honesty they pass down to their children.  He also described them much like the American cowboy ... a comparison I think both would enjoy.  Those words struck me as I walked through the exhibit.  Oral tradition versus written tradition brings a lot of misunderstandings to outsiders.  For us, when something is written down, it becomes real ... heck, sometimes it becomes law.  But, for those who don't read and write - the word is their bond.  Fancy writing seems mystical and difficult to understand and is something to not be trusted.  Bedouins were nomadic and could not carry large sheaves of papyri or parchment, so story telling had to be trusted.  It was such a way of life for them and for all of the nomadic tribes in that area.

Now, the Scrolls are obviously written forms of scripture.  They were written between 250 BC and 68 AD.  There is still a lot of controversy over whether or not they comprise one library, written at Qumran by a single group or multiple libraries gathered together when maybe the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 70 AD. 

The Scrolls were written in three different languages - Hebrew (largest percentage), Aramaic and Greek.  For those who study those languages, these have been a phenomenal resource.

Further historical research and study is even bringing into question information that has, for 30 years, pointed to the Essenes living in Qumran.  It is possible that Qumran may have been a pottery making center, not a colony for this religious group.

I love the way we allow our view of history to change as we learn more about it.  We always have to be open to change. 

I finally got through all of the historical stuff and began seeing bits of rope and pieces of textiles that had been discovered in the caves.  The scroll fragments were getting closer.  Finally, I saw the door that led into a darkened room and I knew I was there.  I pretty much skipped the last part of the exhibit, I was so excited.  It was just more bits and pieces of pottery, fabric and coins.  I wanted to see parchment that had been written upon during the years Jesus walked on the earth!

When I walked into the room and approached the first cabinet, I looked at the wall panel and read that I was looking at a fragment from Jeremiah.  I was undone.  Tears filled my eyes and I fought them back so that I could read.  I moved to the next cabinet and discovered a fragment from Psalm 17-18, then to a piece from Deuteronomy.  There were pieces from a Hymn of Praise - The Thanksgiving Scroll and pieces from what is known as Community Rule - a set of rules for living.  As I moved past each one, I couldn't actually see much of the tiny fragments because of the way the lighting exists, but each had a large panel display with the fragments and translation.

I'd seen what I had come to see, but I couldn't be done.  I sat down on benches in the center of the space and pulled out my notebook to write some thoughts down as people moved back and forth around me.

"Overwhelming awe at the realization of what lies before me."

The scroll fragments were tiny little things, much smaller than I envisioned.  Imagine taking pieces from your Bible.  Unless you have giant-sized words in your Bible, those bits and pieces are pretty small.

Amazing things have happened in the study of the Scrolls as technology continues to progress.  They are able to enhance areas that look blank because of the faded ink, to discover characters that we are unable to see with the naked eye, thus filling out many questionable areas of the scrolls.  There is DNA testing being done on the hides as they discover which fragments come from the same animal or whether the animals come from the same region.  Awesome amounts of information is being uncovered every day.

When I finally left the exhibit, I walked back to my car.  I sat down, pulled out keys and other things I had stuffed in my pockets and finally released all of the tears I had been holding back.  I get it that I'm more emotional than most, but today I stood amidst pieces of history that reach back to Jesus Christ.  Not only are these wonderful pieces of history, but these scrolls have transformed the way we look at Scripture.  Before these were discovered, the earliest pieces of the Bible came from one thousand years later!

I'm exhausted - that was a lot of driving.  While I am so thankful that I took the time to see this Exhibit, it only reminds me of how much more I want.  This wasn't nearly enough for me.  I want to immerse myself in these ancient words in any language that I can so that I can fully comprehend ... as much as possible ... what God says to His people through the written word.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Too hot to be out - stay in and read with me!

Today is going to be hot.  I refuse to play outside when it's hot like this. So, I'm actually inside writing and working.  I know, I know ... that sounds like a normal day for me.  Whatever!!!

Yesterday, I linked you to Pete Wilson's blog  I love his gentle, encouraging words.  He's one of the good guys.  Today's post on putting up with bull while being in leadership is great.

While I'm at it, I want to tell you about some of the other people I read whom I think are pretty amazing.

Rebecca Bauman.  I've talked about her in the past.  I love her!  She wrote with me on my Pour Out a Blessing blog last year.  She has a flamboyant, gorgeous way of looking at scripture.  I started writing through Isaiah 40-66 at the beginning of July and she mentioned here that it is one of her favorite parts of the Bible, so I invited her to write along with me.  However, I waited too long to invite her so that we can be in sync. If you love this section of scripture as much as the two of us do, you won't want to miss her insight.  Start with yesterday's post and keep up with her!

One of my very favorite worship leaders is Travis Cottrell.  I was introduced to him by Beth Moore.  He travels with her and leads worship at her Living Proof Live events.  What an incredible voice and what an amazing gift of leadership he has.  He doesn't post often, but getting to know his family and his love for Jesus is really special through his blogs.  

In that same vein, Beth Moore and her daughters - Amanda and Melissa all post on the Living Proof ministries blog.  What a riot to see the three of them interact with the hundreds of women (and a few men) who read and comment.  They love it all and it's readily apparent how important the ministry is to them.

Just a few more.

Stephen Brewster writes a great blog on creativity.  Funny, he has just gone to work for Pete Wilson.  Whenever he writes, I get a fresh idea about how to put creativity to work.

You all should know by now that I am addicted to the writing of Seth Godin.  He doesn't pull many punches when it comes to honesty in what we do and how we do it.  He is constantly calling for ... better!  Stop messing around and putting up with less.  You have the potential to be so much better.  He is an agent for change and has no qualms about pushing you to make change.

By no means, is this the end of all that I read during the day, but for now these are a few of the ones that I want to share with you.  Check 'em out and enjoy!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Spirituality that breeds love or debate!

I have to say that I tend to steer clear of a lot of Christian bloggers because I can't bear some of the judgmental garbage that happens when they begin to rant about some issue or other.  There are, however, a few that I can't live without.

One of those is the blog by Pete Wilson, who is senior pastor at Crosspoint Church in the Nashville area.  I follow him on Twitter and read his stuff as often as I can and it seems as if every single thing I read from him comes straight from his heart.  He is positive, always publicly encouraging his staff and church members and he challenges those around him to think beyond themselves.

His post today was about a controversial book called "Mere Churchianity" which wonders whether the church has much to say about Christ any longer.  He quotes a passage from the book and then asks his readers to comment. 

Here's the passage he quotes.

"We have a culture-war spirituality that produces Christians who might never share their faith but are ready at a moment’s notice to debate politics, abortion and civil union for gay couples. It is a spirituality that calls down fire on its enemies and shapes its followers into intolerant soldiers waging a morality crusade. Its kingdom is the eventual triumph of moral conservatism, and its spirituality is conflict and argument.

Can we honestly say that Jesus was a culture warrior? Can we say that the spirituality of Jesus is geared to turning you into a noisy talk-radio pundit? Is our anger at the decline of culture really a dependable guide toward the experience of God?"

The comments on the post are as intriguing as the original post and as the book.  I think this is a discussion that we as Christians need to be having often! 

When will we stop allowing our personal bigotry, agendas and problems to guide the church and actually allow God to lead us in the way that He wants us to go?

I've ordered the book to my Kindle and am actually NOT looking forward to reading this.  Pete Wilson says that the book ticked him off.  Great. 

I just keep going back to the same words that I will use over and over again.  We can not allow the ugliness that wells up in each of us to overcome our relationship with the world around us.  We have to face everything with love and if we don't have enough to handle things we don't understand, are fearful of or just plain don't like, then we need to recognize our great need for the love of Jesus. 

It seems as if this topic keeps leaping up inside me.  So, I just keep writing about it.  Love has to win out over our culture and our interpretation of our culture!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The dog is on the roof?!

Today has been a day!

I had a few plans to get things done, but was interrupted by a small dog acting strangely.  I called the vet and had to wait several hours to get her in (if I had thought it was an emergency, he'd have moved faster for me). By the time I was driving her to his office, I had completely talked myself into the fact that she had some awful neurological disorder and I was going to have to have him put her to sleep this afternoon.  Oh yah - pretty well had myself worked past all of the anger, bargaining, pleading, sorrow to acceptance.

No, it's nothing like that - the poor thing will lose some more teeth on Friday and she's having an issue with her eyes (she's nearly 14 - it's gonna happen) and then we'll be back at some semblance of normal. 

As I processed through all of those emotions today and then came out at the end of the appointment knowing that it was nothing life-threatening and all would be fine, I just chuckled at myself.  Am I really that much of a pessimist?

I am!  I learned a long time ago that if I can think things through to the worst possible scenario and figure out how to handle that, then I will be much better off when that worst case doesn't actually occur!  I hate being surprised by bad news.  If you have something terrible to tell me - do it really, really fast and then leave me alone for a few minutes to process the worst of it.  When I come back, I generally have a plan of action ready to go and can deal with it.

Here's one of my favorite jokes - but, this might be what I need!

John lived with his mother and his golden retriever.  When he won a 10-day cruise to the Puerto Rico, he couldn’t take his dog with him.

His brother, Al agreed to come over to John's house and stay while John was gone. All he had to do was feed the dog – their mother could take care of herself.

The first day, John called Al and asked, "How are things?" To which Al responded, "Things are fine."

"How's Mom?"
"Mom's fine."

"How's the cat?"
"The cat's fine." Satisfied, John hung up.

Next day, John called Al again, asking the same questions.

"How are things?"
"Things are fine."

"How's Mom?"
"Mom's fine."

"How's the dog?"
"The dog’s DEAD."

"WHAT?!?" John was quite distressed.  "How could you let it die? He was my best friend!”

"Well, John, I'm sorry, but I couldn't do anything, I didn't see it. But what I think happened was that the dog got on the roof, fell off, and broke his leg. Then, he hobbled out into the road, and got run over."

John was cooling down a bit now, and said, "Well, couldn't you have tried to break it to me over time?  You could have said it bit by bit. For example, you could have first said 'The dog is on the roof', then the next day said 'The dog fell off the roof, and broke its leg', see what I'm saying."

"Yeah, yeah, I get it.  See you later, John."

"Ok... bye."  John hung up.

The next day, John phoned Al again.

"How are things?"
"Things are fine."

"How's Mom?"
"Umm," Al said, "Mom's on the roof.”

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Happy Birthday, Margie!

Today would have been Mom's birthday.  So, rather than me writing a lot of words, I'm going to share some of hers.  She painted this in 1968.  That pink table sat out in the front of the yard for years, it was where she did a lot of work. You can see a pot of flowers.  She'd have been working on that before painting it.  And her "Ballad of Bell's Dell."

Ballad of Bell's Dell

This land holds a mystery;
Age-old secrets kept intact
Through years of history,
Now from rusted bindings hacked.

Into the hillside men bored
A tunnel, looking for coal.
Their lives and their labors poured
they into the long dark hole.

The tunnel is closed and sealed.
Ninety-odd years have now passed
Since men, grimy, blackened, reeled
From gloom to sunlight at last.

An aged man who once lived here
Told us how two brothers worked
The mines and how the old fear
Of death round each corner lurked.

One brother looked back too soon;
Death caught him a glancing blow.
The clanking ore cars, the Boone
No longer heard above its flow.

Across the river, the old
Bell's Mill ground settler's grain
While folks sat and talked and told
Tales of Indians and wagon trains.

But Death had crossed the river
And stopped the wooden mill wheel.
His son's crushed bones sent shivers
Down Bell's spine; his blood congealed.

Late one night in early spring,
Ice went out; up rose the Boone.
Great ice chunks did smash and fling
Themselves high beneath the moon.

Death claimed the miller that night
While violent ice knives spilled
The mill's life blood as if in spite
For grain no longer to be milled.

The mineral water spring
That lured folks from miles around,
Searching cures, no longer sings.
Cows trampled it in the ground.

A row of huts once stood
Upon the hillside here.
Children romped warm in mitts and hood
While mothers toiled and spilled a tear.

Their men worked at the sawmill
Down by the edge of the road.
A rough crew, but bound by law still;
Justice was served as the cock crowed.

Much later, a fine old woman
Fought her own battle with death.
It took the life of this human
As her soul fled with her last breath.

An emptiness surrounds her house,
A bleakness, a hole of despair;
Sounds of mourning whistle through the boughs;
Her husband waits with a vacant stare.

Last summer, wading, we found
Under the river, wood parts
From the old mill race. But no sound
We heard of ghostly, creaking carts.

The children climb, slide and play
On the old slag heap beside
Our drive. A sunken place flays
Our memories of a miner's pride.

The land is peopled with ghosts
Who once lived and loved and died.
They beckon, eternal hosts
who live on the other side.

Some of their secrets we share.
We'll add our own to this land;
Much later then we will dare
Follow the beckoning hand.

August 15, 1969
Margie Greenwood

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Learning to drive

I'm betting that the one thing most of us remember is learning how to drive.  My goodness, I had a lot of experience in the driver's seat before I got my license.  As soon as I could get my permit, I was standing in line with Mom.  I could hardly wait. 

Before that happened, she and Dad had allowed me to drive the Volkswagen bug around the meadow up at the cabin.  Around and around I went, never going any faster than I could get in second gear.  But, I learned how to time those gear shifts so that I didn't completely embarrass myself by killing it.  That took me a few trips to figure out, but I did it.

I don't think that Dad ever did much teaching - I was terrified of him and I suspect that he was terrified of scaring me to death and causing me to drive into a telephone pole.  It was probably much safer for Mom to sit in the passenger seat.  She had no fear of yelling at me if I was doing something stupid.  She sucked in her breath a lot and made wavy motions with her hands while trying to keep me on the pavement and off the shoulder of the highway.  She wasn't terribly appreciative of my frightened sounds when I turned a corner or hesitated.  But, we all got through it.

The best compliment I ever got was driving with my grandfather in the back seat.  As I shifted down and came to a stop one day, letting up on the brake a bit before the stop and then bringing it finally to a halt, he quietly commented that he couldn't believe someone as young as I could make such a smooth stop.  What a strange thing for me to remember, but it felt great.

Mom was thrilled with having a driver that was excited about actually driving in her life.  The next summer we took a trip out east - we always drove straight through - 33 hours or so, switching drivers.  I was so happy to be behind the wheel that I'd do anything I could to drive.  Yup, she won.

As soon as I got my license, I had access to the car nearly every time I needed it.  Mom had access to a new taxi driver - I 'had to' take Carol and Jim wherever they needed to go.  Well, hello ... yes!  I've loved driving and feeling that sense of freedom from the very moment I learned.

Since I drove that five-on-the-floor bug, I ended up teaching a few of my friends how to drive a stick shift - in the parking lot at the Catholic church.  It was the biggest, emptiest lot in Sigourney during the day and tucked back a little bit so the entire world wasn't watching and laughing as my friends lurched through learning how to time that shift. 

You know ... once we learned to walk, we didn't want to crawl and when children learn to run, they want to run all the time!  We learn how to drive and we like how it feels.  Each of these things gives us a little more freedom than before.  We expand our world.

Every time we learn something new - we get a bigger picture of the world.  We shed fears about that part of the unknown, we gain a sense of control of a new part of the world. 

Learning is a great way to grow beyond what we know ... maybe it's a new hobby or a new part of our job.  When we stop learning, we we stop wanting to know something new, we cease to grow and become stagnant. 

I don't have a stick shift any longer, but if you get one, I'm glad to sit in the passenger seat and teach you how to drive it.  I will also encourage you every day to find something new to learn about.  Crawling ... walking ... running ... riding a bike ... driving a car ... flying a plane (ok, that might be a little over the top).  Everything makes your world view bigger.  Try to constantly find ways to do that!

Happy Birthday, Carol

Alright, the calendar says I've missed a day, but really folks, I'm still awake - does that count for blogging every day?  Oh please say it does!

Today was Carol's birthday (alright it's 1:10 am - YESTERDAY was Carol's birthday).  Every year she has had some wild party and has worked her tail off to make the party fun.  This year was much quieter, but when I dropped her off, she told me what a great night she had. 

Let's see ... how easy could it be?  I picked her up and we went to see Twilight: Eclipse.  They even had t-shirts for sale at the theater - for sale / on sale!  And I got a Team Edward tote bag - well, of course I did!  The movie was fabulous and if you hate vampires and werewolves ... well, I'm just sorry about that!

Dinner at Lonestar then off to McKennas to enjoy one of our favorite bands - Thousand Houses.  Finally it was home to dash for the bathroom and run the dog outside before she exploded.  Which one of us was going to explode first was up for grabs, but because I'm the mama, I got to choose.  I do NOT know why I insist on leaving a place with a perfectly good bathroom knowing that I'm going to arrive home and dance at the back door until I can get it unlocked.  I'm old enough, I should know better.  I wonder if there's a little bit of that rebellion against mom telling me to go to the bathroom before I get in the car - just try!  Yup, I'm guessing that's my problem! :)

That's what was up and why there was no REAL blog this evening.  My eyes are burning, they seem to be as tired as the rest of me.  I'll be back tomorrow with real words, I promise!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Love has to win out.

I've been thinking a lot about anger, judgment, fear, misunderstanding, faith, Christianity, religion, etc. the last few days.

If I were to ask you whether or not - without a doubt - you believe in heaven, would you think about your answer before delivering it, or would you immediately pop off a quick yes or no?

Do you believe in God?  Without any doubt, fully assured that He is the Creator.  Do you believe in Jesus Christ?  Without any doubt, fully assured that He lived on earth and then secondly, that He is going to return and that His return will signify the end of the world.

Now, while I'd love to discuss those questions with you, I wonder if you think about people outside your church or your faith group and how they would answer them.  I also wonder about how safe they would feel in answering them honestly with you.

There have been so many things rattling around in my brain lately that to trap them all and get them written down would be nearly impossible, but the main thrust of what is going on up there always comes back to what God intends for His world and how we interpret it.  Basically, I think we screw it up on a regular basis.  All of us - me included.

I write a lot about how we act in the world and how we are viewed by non-Christians.  Paul wrote a lot about that as well.  He watched new Christians get so enthusiastic they drove people around them crazy and he watched old Christians get so judgmental and demanding about the process that they drove people around them away from Jesus.

It is difficult to live as a Christian in the world, but I think we make it tougher than it needs to be.  Especially on each other and for goodness' sake we make it difficult for anyone who isn't a Christian to want to be anything like us.

We are afraid of things we don't understand and for many Christians in today's world who have never, ever known anything other than being a Christian, there is a disconnect between them and the world.  It's hard to talk to someone who doesn't understand our belief structure.  It's hard to accept their world-view.  Instead of showing love, we ridicule and make judgmental commentary.  We quote scripture (which by the way, they simply don't understand - much less believe) and demand that they follow rules to be accepted in the church or into our lives.  We surround ourselves with people who believe as we do, even down to going to church in a denomination because another doesn't spout a doctrine we can accept.

So, when anything comes up that might be different or outside our comfort level, we react poorly.  Today I read a Tweet by a Christian humorist (Jonathan Acuff - he writes satire and irony) that this:

"When he dies God'll show him Holy Spirit straight to HELL!" Comment I got. Pray for folks whose version of God longs to send people to hell."

Judgment is stronger than grace. 

I'm back to the earlier questions.  Do you believe - beyond a shadow of a doubt - in heaven ... in God ... in Jesus Christ?   If your answer is yes - I'm glad for you.  If your answer tends to include that small hint of doubt in the deepest, darkest recesses of your mind, consider that there is a world out there filled with people who live with that doubt every day.  They yearn for something or someone to show them that God exists and there is a reason for them to believe and have hope in eternity.  They are desperate to not be judged or looked down upon because we think we are better than them since we've made a decision to have faith.  They want to know love and grace, mercy and understanding from those of us who call ourselves Christians; to see that exhibited in everything that we do and say, no matter how much our opinions on life, news reports, politics, media, and every other thing we encounter seem to be important to us.

Love one another ... not just those who think, look, act, and worship like us. 

My thoughts have been a little random tonight - in fact, it's taken me nearly an hour just to get any type of cohesion in this blog.  I still don't think I made it, and you know what ... I still have a lot of questions about faith and the reality of God, heaven and eternity.  I hope I always do because every question forces me to dig for an answer.  

But, until I get the answers ... I know that the safest way for me to encounter everything that I do is with the knowledge that God has called me to love, not to judge and not to always be right (even though I am called the Oracle), but to love.  So, until I can prove beyond that shadow of a doubt that God exists, I will show that He does with love.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Words, Words, Words

I have a real tendency to forget words.  I have been telling my family for years that when I'm finally old (like 98 or 105), their job is to remind me that I've always been unable to trap the right word when I need it.  It generally comes to me within an hour or so, but yikes that frustrates me.

As much as I love words, I haven't been what you might call a 'Master' of vocabulary.  However, I'm learning that sometimes not being able to immediately come up with a word that I'm looking for, forces me to be much more creative in my writing.  It gets really descriptive ... really fast.

Hah, that's a memory.  All three of us, Mom, me and Carol got really good at describing something because the word wouldn't slip off our tongue.  We also got really good at interpreting whatever in the world the others were trying to say. 

Words have always been a huge part of our lives.  I've told you before that I have fabulous memories of Mom and Dad debating the usage of a word well into the evening.

But, they still trip me up.  I don't do well at giving a precise definition when asked either.  I read like a fiend and have an incredible understanding of words when given in context, but if you ask me to break it down, I have a difficult time.

I think I'll blame mom.  As much as she and Dad gave me a love of language, at the same time, she thoroughly enjoyed messing with words, to the extent that there are still words I can't say out loud without having to stop and think through their pronunciation.

Most everyone will see this animal:

and be able to tell me that it's a rhinoceros.  I can't actually say that word without some thought and I'm betting that neither can my sister or brother.  Mom always called it a 'rhi-no-sore-ass.'  Every time.  If I don't stop and think first, I'll put the emphasis on the first syllable instead of the second and from that point on, I'm sunk.

A rabbit is a bun-rab, and the words 'antique' and 'unique' are to be pronounced as 'an-te-queue' or 'un-i-queue.' 

This stuff was commonplace in my home.

One day at work, I told Cody that I had been stall-foundered in a project.  He just looked at me like I was nuts.  He'd never heard that before.  I loudly assured him that it was a word and he asked me to prove it.  Well, huh!  I couldn't.  She'd done it to me again.  I still think it's a great word.

The other day I was obsessing over the word 'vagary' or 'vagaries.'  I'd already used it in a conversation with two different people, wanted to toss it out there in a status update, but figured that I might be over-using it, so I tried to set it aside.  When people ask me what my favorite word is, I have to admit that I might have a new one every day - whatever great and wonderful word creeps into my noggin will get spewed out everywhere.  Sometimes they are mundane words, sometimes a little more pithy, but always fun for me to use.

I do love words.  This is one of my favorite sites now - the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary online.

What are some of your favorite words?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

It's Vacation Time!

My eyes were drooping so I lay down for a while with the dog curled up beside me.  As I was trying to drift off towards sleepy-bye, I began to process on what I could write about today.  I'm fairly certain there were some great ideas, but in that 40 minute period between creative thinking and now, sleep took over and washed everything away.  I'm sure it was great, though.

What was the best vacation you've ever taken? 

Last week as I traveled the interstate with millions of other vacationers, I thought about how silly they all looked, decked out for traveling in clothes they didn't usually wear, with kids tucked into their seats and desperately wanting to be anywhere but with their families, heading to see more family or walk around historic or beautiful sites, doing what we do best - rest?

I don't think vacations were ever about rest.  We traveled and traveled, saw the sites, visited family, jammed ourselves back into the van to travel some more, see some more sites, visit more family, jam ourselves back in the family to go home and promptly pass out from all the vacationing.

Don't get me wrong, we saw great stuff, had interesting times with family and managed to never kill each other in the van.

The very best vacation I think I ever took with my family was a trip to northern Canada - Dad wanted to drive as far as the road would go and we did.  We traveled hard to get there, unloaded the van, set up camp in a gorgeous campsite and stopped moving.  We slept, fished, read, walked, cooked and ate, slept, fished, meandered around the lake in the canoe, slept, fished and read some more.  I had just come through the first year of my first real job and I was exhausted before I left.  I've never done anything quite so peaceful as that long week in the wilderness.

Camping with Dad was never difficult.  He planned for weeks, didn't miss anything as he put together lists of what we needed and planned a map of how it would all be packed in the van.  Fishing with Dad was always fun.  He took care of everything because he was so good at it.  His tackle boxes were filled with anything you might need to have a great time and he understood the water so well that most of the time he would land right where the fish were biting.  It always drove him a little crazy if he took someone out fishing and they weren't successful.  So, he made those types of trips pretty great.

We always camped when I was growing up.  Dad didn't have the money for motels, so the tent was our shelter.  I can remember, as a kid, driving by motels with "Vacancy" signs lit quite nicely late at night while Dad looked for a campground and crying a little inside.  Beds always seemed like such a nice idea.

When I was in junior high, Dad made a plan for a big vacation.  We were going to travel to Yellowstone, but we were going to go through South Dakota first.  We had just moved from Morning Sun to Sigourney and while in Morning Sun, had gotten to know a foreign exchange student really well.  Doris was from Germany and loved us three kids.  It was a great opportunity for her to see more of the country and Mom was thrilled with an extra near-adult along to be with us kids.  That was a vacation where we traveled and traveled to see the sites.  But, my goodness, I don't think any of us kids look back on that vacation with anything but a sense of joy and wonder.  We had a blast.

Later, our vacations became part of the youth group trips that were taken each year since Dad only had so many weeks he could be gone and he always wanted to spend two solid weeks at the cabin as a family.  But, on those youth group trips, I saw a lot of world since he alternated every year an adventure trip (canoeing the Boundary Waters - one year white water canoeing in Wisconsin) with a work camp trip down into Kentucky/Tennessee.  My grandmother lived in the Boston area so we went out a couple of times, finally bringing her back with us.  Those were trips where we dealt with interesting family ... she was nothing if not interesting.

A couple of years ago, Max and I took a vacation that had nothing to do with family.  That was new.  Off to the Grand Canyon we went.  Ten days of traveling and seeing sites.  The last few days we settled into a strip motel in Utah so that we could spend time in Utah's Canyonlands.  I was completely overwhelmed by the beauty of God's creation during that trip.  Max still has some of his photographs posted here

Vacations have never meant resorts and cruises to me, though I have friends who absolutely adore those.  Who knows ... maybe someday.

What's your favorite vacation memory?

Monday, July 05, 2010

Making a lifetime of memories

I was pretty young when I realized that my memories were important.  It might have come from the fact that my parents were insistent on finding ways for us to remember our childhood.  They told stories, they constantly pulled out photographs, they took a lot of pictures. I have a distinct memory of thinking to myself in my early twenties, that I was awfully young to be reminiscing, but I did.

Saturday afternoon Max and I were driving around a cemetery in Omaha.  It was right across the street from the laundromat and we had ten more minutes before the dryer was finished.  I saw the most interesting gravestones!  They had framed pictures on them of the people whose graves they covered!  Obviously that style of gravestone has been quite common in that cemetery for decades!  Now I don't spend a lot of time in cemeteries, but I have been in a few and Max in a few more as he finds fun things to photograph and we had never seen this before.  Since some of the photographs look to be in fabulous shape after sixty years, we also wonder if there were a stack of them given to the cemetery association to be replaced as the others faded.

Photographs seem to be a great way to remember people, places, special times.  The advent of cheap digital cameras makes taking pictures easy.  There are probably more pictures floating around now than ever before.

I don't know if I have a specific memory of what mom looks like.  I have pictures that are associated with the photographs I own, but the living, breathing Margie Greenwood that was such a presence in my life is not easily called to mind.  What I do have are fleeting images of moments in time.  I can remember some of the different clothes she wore, the lipstick she insisted on wearing before walking out the front door when I was young, standing in the kitchen absolutely soaked to the skin after a water fight, coming into our room in the middle of the night because Carol had just thrown up (it took a few years for the girl to wake up enough to get into the bathroom when she was sick).

Grandma Greenwood is another one that I have a lot of moving images of: her in the kitchen washing dishes, or sitting at her dressing table with her long hair down (it was nearly always in a bun), brushing through it ninety-nine times an evening.  I remember her black heavy shoes and the limp that she walked with.  I remember my Aunt Ruth's blue dress and her rosy cheeks & lush lips when she smiled.

I remember my Dad in khakis that were soaked from the calf down because he'd been wading in the river.

Photos don't bring back these memories, but they are still there.  The photos I have trap different moments in time and when I look at them, they bring back rushes of memories, some so faint that I can't put my finger on them, others so strong that they nearly wipe me out.

I don't remember the sounds of voices.  Max digitized a sermon that mom had given in the 70s in Sigourney and it was the strangest thing to hear her voice after twenty-five years.  My mind had changed and transformed it so that it was barely recognizable.

There are a lot of things I have kept over the years to help me remember events and times.  A few years ago, I started looking through a box of items and I knew that there were things that had once held memories for me, but at some point even those could no longer trigger what it was.  That was really an odd feeling, to know that I should remember something, but I simply can't.

Calendars and journals through the years trigger memories, but even with the words written down, I don't know that all of them make sense to me when I read through them much later.  I wouldn't give them up for anything, though!

It's been really interesting talking to old friends from high school and college again.  They remember things that I don't and once in awhile, they'll open something up in my mind with a quick comment or a story that brings back a rush of information.  Other times, the memory just isn't there, though I know it should be.  One of the most interesting things about this is that my memories sometimes differ so much from my classmates' that I wonder how many of these have been twisted to fit in my view of reality.  Such an ephemeral thing.

Reminiscing has been a part of my life since I was young and will be there for the rest of my life.  Believe it or nor, though ... for the most part the memories I maintain are the good things that have happened to me.  When someone reminds me of a terrible incident in my life, I remember that it happened, but I rarely remember the pain. 

How do you remember?