Sunday, December 25, 2011

Holy Child

Mom wrote this in 1969 ... much of it continues to apply today!  Except maybe the crack about long-haired kids.  At least that's one bit of prejudice that isn't quite as prevalent!  She definitely gave me my love of words - look how she uses them in this!

Holy Child

Peace on earth! Good will to men!
The sounds ring out with bell-like tone.
Yearly, the tarnished words again
Stand starkly naked . . . alone!

Amid the tinsel, glitter, laughter,
The message of that grown Child
Who spoke of love, peace ever after,
The man who walked the second mile,
Is guiltily hidden deep down
Under mounds of gifts; pushed aside
By fur-clad shoppers who darkly frown
And snatch a bauble with greedy pride.

Peace on earth . . . a hollow joke
to children whose wide dark eyes,
Terror struck at a world blood soaked
Reflect the carnage and the cries.
Mars, god of war, with smoking gun
Stands on the corpse-strewn field.
Discord, his sister, Strife her son,
Triumphantly lift high the shield.

Peace! The lonely cry of long-haired kids,
Plaintive sounds of ancient songs,
Of gentle Friends . . . of Jesus . . . bids
Us hurry to right the devilish wrongs.
The perfect gift cannot be bought,
Nor gaily wrapped, but found again
Within oneself where love has wrought
The miracle: good will to men.

Lion and lamb, white man, black man;
Nations, people, reconciled;
Rejoice and sing, hand in hand,
to us was born that holy Child.

Margie Greenwood
Dec. 13, 1969

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Story - The Little Match-Seller

Each of these stories told by my father made me cry, year after year.  This story destroys me, but I love it.  Hans Christian Andersen tells an amazing story and my father related it well.

by Hans Christian Andersen

It was terribly cold and nearly dark on the last evening of the old year, and the snow was falling fast. In the cold and the darkness, a poor little girl, with bare head and naked feet, roamed through the streets. It is true she had on a pair of slippers when she left home, but they were not of much use. They were very large, so large, indeed, that they had belonged to her mother, and the poor little creature had lost them in running across the street to avoid two carriages that were rolling along at a terrible rate. One of the slippers she could not find, and a boy seized upon the other and ran away with it, saying that he could use it as a cradle, when he had children of his own. So the little girl went on with her little naked feet, which were quite red and blue with the cold. In an old apron she carried a number of matches, and had a bundle of them in her hands. No one had bought anything of her the whole day, nor had any one given here even a penny. Shivering with cold and hunger, she crept along; poor little child, she looked the picture of misery. The snowflakes fell on her long, fair hair, which hung in curls on her shoulders, but she regarded them not.

Lights were shining from every window, and there was a savory smell of roast goose, for it was New-year's eve- yes, she remembered that. In a corner, between two houses, one of which projected beyond the other, she sank down and huddled herself together. She had drawn her little feet under her, but she could not keep off the cold; and she dared not go home, for she had sold no matches, and could not take home even a penny of money. Her father would certainly beat her; besides, it was almost as cold at home as here, for they had only the roof to cover them, through which the wind howled, although the largest holes had been stopped up with straw and rags. Her little hands were almost frozen with the cold. Ah! perhaps a burning match might be some good, if she could draw it from the bundle and strike it against the wall, just to warm her fingers. She drew one out-"scratch!" how it sputtered as it burnt! It gave a warm, bright light, like a little candle, as she held her hand over it. It was really a wonderful light. It seemed to the little girl that she was sitting by a large iron stove, with polished brass feet and a brass ornament. How the fire burned! and seemed so beautifully warm that the child stretched out her feet as if to warm them, when, lo! the flame of the match went out, the stove vanished, and she had only the remains of the half-burnt match in her hand.

She rubbed another match on the wall. It burst into a flame, and where its light fell upon the wall it became as transparent as a veil, and she could see into the room. The table was covered with a snowy white table-cloth, on which stood a splendid dinner service, and a steaming roast goose, stuffed with apples and dried plums. And what was still more wonderful, the goose jumped down from the dish and waddled across the floor, with a knife and fork in its breast, to the little girl. Then the match went out, and there remained nothing but the thick, damp, cold wall before her.

She lighted another match, and then she found herself sitting under a beautiful Christmas-tree. It was larger and more beautifully decorated than the one which she had seen through the glass door at the rich merchant's. Thousands of tapers were burning upon the green branches, and colored pictures, like those she had seen in the show-windows, looked down upon it all. The little one stretched out her hand towards them, and the match went out.

The Christmas lights rose higher and higher, till they looked to her like the stars in the sky. Then she saw a star fall, leaving behind it a bright streak of fire. "Some one is dying," thought the little girl, for her old grandmother, the only one who had ever loved her, and who was now dead, had told her that when a star falls, a soul was going up to God.

She again rubbed a match on the wall, and the light shone round her; in the brightness stood her old grandmother, clear and shining, yet mild and loving in her appearance. "Grandmother," cried the little one, "O take me with you; I know you will go away when the match burns out; you will vanish like the warm stove, the roast goose, and the large, glorious Christmas-tree." And she made haste to light the whole bundle of matches, for she wished to keep her grandmother there. And the matches glowed with a light that was brighter than the noon-day, and her grandmother had never appeared so large or so beautiful. She took the little girl in her arms, and they both flew upwards in brightness and joy far above the earth, where there was neither cold nor hunger nor pain, for they were with God.

In the dawn of morning there lay the poor little one, with pale cheeks and smiling mouth, leaning against the wall; she had been frozen to death on the last evening of the year; and the New-year's sun rose and shone upon a little corpse! The child still sat, in the stiffness of death, holding the matches in her hand, one bundle of which was burnt. "She tried to warm herself," said some. No one imagined what beautiful things she had seen, nor into what glory she had entered with her grandmother, on New-year's day.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Story - A Song for Elizabeth

She was old and frail, unable to speak. But to the nurse in this 1979 story, she taught a real lesson about Christmas.
A Song for Elizabeth
December 1995 , Guideposts
by Robin Cole, Veradale, Washington

December snow swept across the parking lot of Crescent Manor Convalescent Home. As the youngest nurse on the staff, I sat with the charge nurse at the North Wing station, staring out the double-glass doors and waiting for the first wave of evening visitors. At the sound of bedroom slippers flapping against bare heels, I turned to see Elizabeth, one of our patients, striding down the corridor.

“Oh, please,” groaned the charge nurse, “not tonight! Not when we’re shorthanded already!”

Rounding the corner, Elizabeth jerked the sash of her tired chenille robe tighter around her skinny waist. We hadn’t combed her hair for a while, and it made a scraggly halo around her wrinkled face.

“Doop doop,” she said, nodding quickly and hurrying on. “Doop doop,” she said to the man in the dayroom slumped in front of the TV, a belt holding him in his wheelchair.

The charge nurse turned to me. “Can you settle her down?”

“Shall I go after her or wait till she comes around again?”

“Just wait. I may need you here before she gets back. She never does any harm. It’s just that ridiculous sound she makes. I wonder if she thinks she’s saying words!”

A group of visitors swept through the front doors. They came in, scraping feet on the rug, shaking snow from their coats, cleaning their glasses. They clustered around the desk, seeking information, and as they did Elizabeth came striding by again. “Doop doop,” she said happily to everyone. I moved out to intercept the purposeful strider.

“Elizabeth,” I said, taking her bony elbow, “I need you to do something for me. Come and sit down and I’ll tell you about it.” I was stalling. This wasn’t anything I had learned in training, but I would think of something.

The charge nurse stared at me and, shaking her head, turned her attention to the group of visitors surrounding the desk. Nobody ever got Elizabeth to do anything. We counted it a good day if we could keep her from pacing the halls.

Elizabeth stopped. She looked into my face with a puzzled frown. “Doop doop,” she said.

I led her to a writing table in the dayroom and found a piece of paper and a pencil.

“Sit down here at the desk, Elizabeth. Write your name for me.”

Her watery eyes grew cloudy. Deep furrows appeared between her brows. She took the stubby pencil in her gnarled hand and held it above the paper. Again and again she looked at the paper and then at me questioningly.

“Here. I’ll write it first, and then you can copy it, okay?”

In large, clear script, I wrote, “Elizabeth Goode.”

“There you are. You stay here and copy that. I’ll be right back.”

At the edge of the dayroom I turned, half expecting to see her following me, but she sat quietly, pencil in hand. The only sound now came from the muffled voices of visitors and their ailing loved ones.

“Elizabeth is writing,” I told the charge nurse. I could hardly believe it.

“Fantastic,” she said calmly. “You’d better not leave her alone for long. We don’t have time to clean pencil marks off the walls tonight.” She turned away, avoiding my eyes. “Oh, I almost forgot—Novak and Sellers both have that rotten flu. They’ll be out all week. Looks like you’ll be working Christmas Eve.” She pulled a metal-backed chart from the file and was suddenly very busy.

I swallowed hard. Until now I had loved my independence, my own small trailer. At 22 I was just out of nurse’s training and on my own. But I had never spent Christmas Eve away from my parents and my brothers. That wasn’t in the picture at all when I moved away from home. I planned to go home for holidays.

Words raced through my head: They’ll go to the candlelight service without me! They’ll read the stories, and I won’t be there to hear! What kind of Christmas can I have in a little trailer with nothing to decorate but a potted fern? How can it be Christmas if I can’t be the first one up to turn on the tree lights? Who’ll make the cocoa for the family?

Tears burned my eyes, but I blinked them back. Nodding slowly, I walked toward the dayroom.

Elizabeth sat at the writing table staring down at the paper in front of her. Softly I touched my hand to her fragile shoulder, and she looked up with a smile. She handed me the paper. Under my big, bold writing was a wobbly signature.

“Elizabeth Goode,” it read.

“Doop doop,” said Elizabeth with satisfaction.

Later that night, when all the visitors were gone and the North Wing was dark and silent, I sat with the charge nurse, completing charts. “Do you suppose I could take Elizabeth out tomorrow?” I asked. In good weather, we often took the patients for walks or rides, but I didn’t know about snowy nights. “I’d like to go to Christmas Eve service, and I think she’d like to go with me.”

“Wouldn’t she be a problem? What about the doop doop?”

“I think I can explain it to her. You know, nobody else talks during church, so she’d probably be quiet too. Look how well she did this afternoon when I gave her something to do.”

The charge nurse looked thoughtful. “Things would be a lot easier around here if you did take her. Then you could get her ready for bed when you got back. There’ll be visitors to help with the others, but nobody has been here for Elizabeth in a long time. I’ll ask her doctor for you.”

And so it was that a first-year nurse and a tall, skinny old lady arrived at First Church on Christmas Eve just before the service began. The snow had stopped and the stars were brilliant in the clear, cold sky.

“Now, Elizabeth,” I said, “I don’t know how much you can understand, but listen to me. We’re going in to sit down with the rest of the people. There’ll be music and someone will read. There’ll be kids in costumes too. But we aren’t going to say anything. We’ll stand up when it’s time to sing, and we’ll hold the hymnal together.”

Elizabeth looked grave. “Doop doop,” she said.

Oh, Lord, I hope she understands! I thought. Suppose she gets up and heads down the aisle wishing everyone a doop doop?

I wrapped Elizabeth’s coat and shawl around her and tucked my arm under hers. Together we entered the candlelit church. Elizabeth’s watery old eyes gleamed, and her face crinkled in a smile. But she said nothing.

The choir entered singing. The pastor read the Christmas story from the Bible: “And there were in the same country, shepherds . . . ”

Costumed children took their places at the front of the church—shepherds and wise men, angels and the holy family. Elizabeth watched, but she said nothing. The congregation rose to sing “Joy to the World.” Elizabeth stood, holding the hymnal with me, her mouth closed. The lights in the sanctuary dimmed, and two white-robed angels lit the candelabra. Finally the organ began the introduction to “Silent Night,” and we stood again.

I handed the hymnal to Elizabeth, but she shook her head. A cold dread gathered at the back of my neck. Now what? Would this be the moment when she started wandering down the aisle? I looked at her wrinkled face out of the corner of my eye, trying to guess her thoughts. The singing began. I sang as loudly as I could, hoping to attract Elizabeth’s attention. As I paused for breath, I heard a thin, cracked voice.

“Sleep in heavenly peace,” it sang. “Sleep in heavenly peace.”

Elizabeth! Staring straight ahead, candlelight reflected in her eyes, she was singing the words without consulting the hymnal.

Oh, Lord, forgive me, I prayed. Sometimes I forget. Of course it can be Christmas with only a fern to decorate. Of course it can be Christmas without a tree or the family or cocoa. Christmas is the story of love. It’s the birth of the Son of God, and it can live in the heart and memory of a gray-haired old woman.

“Christ the Savior is born,” sang Elizabeth. “Christ the Savior is born.”

“Merry Christmas, Elizabeth,” I whispered, gently patting her arm.

“Doop doop,” Elizabeth replied contentedly.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Story - The Gift of the Magi

My father loved telling stories. There were a few that he used over and over again in his sermons each time we moved to a new community.  I grew to know these stories well and looked forward to hearing him tell them again.  I have three of them to share with you.  Today's story is quite familiar.  

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

ONE DOLLAR AND EIGHTY-SEVEN CENTS. THAT WAS ALL. AND SIXTY CENTS of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
There was clearly nothing left to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the look-out for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young."

The "Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, the letters of "Dillingham" looked blurred, as though they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called "Jim" and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a grey cat walking a grey fence in a grey backyard. To-morrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling--something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honour of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 Bat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. Her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its colour within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the Queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out of the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her, rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she cluttered out of the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: "Mme Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds." One Eight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the "Sofronie."

"Will you buy my hair?" asked Della.

"I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it."

Down rippled the brown cascade.

"Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.

"Give it to me quick" said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim's present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation--as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and value--the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 78 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task dear friends--a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

"If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do--oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?"

At 7 o'clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit of saying little silent prayers about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: "Please, God, make him think I am still pretty."

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two--and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was with out gloves.

Jim stepped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

"Jim, darling," she cried, "don't look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold it because I couldn't have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It'll grow out again--you won't mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say 'Merry Christmas!' Jim, and let's be happy. You don't know what a nice-what a beautiful, nice gift I've got for you."

"You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet, even after the hardest mental labour.

"Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you like me just as well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"

Jim looked about the room curiously.

"You say your hair is gone?" he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

"You needn't look for it," said Della. "It's sold, I tell you--sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered," she went on with a sudden serious sweetness, "but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?"

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year--what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. I his dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

"Don't make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. I don't think there's anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you'll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first."

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs--the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped for long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise-shell, with jewelled rims--just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: "My hair grows so fast, Jim!"

And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, "Oh, oh!"

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to {lash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

"Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You'll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it."

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

"Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy Your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on."

The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men-who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Happy Birthday to my Grandfather

I remember strange things.  I say strange, because there is no rhyme or reason to why I remember something.  I remember my childhood telephone number, but not the number Carol and I had in our first apartment.  I remember the names of my kindergarten and first grade teachers, but not those of my fourth and fifth grade teachers. I can remember what year all of my grandparents were born, but only one of their birth dates.

Today is the one of those that I remember.  My grandfather - James Worden McFarlane.  We called him Mac. He was born in 1902 (oh dear, I don't remember what year he died, but it was in the early 80s).  This man was nothing other than a character.  I feel so badly that I saw him through my mother's eyes rather than the eyes of his friends.  Mom was so weary of dealing with his craziness and complete dependence on her that I didn't get a chance to get to know him as an adult. By that time, he was just a needy old man.

He was absolutely brilliant.  His father was a professor at Columbia and co-wrote a series of geography textbooks used all across the country in the early part of the last century.  His mother decided that the easiest way for her to live her life was as an invalid.  It was a choice rather than a necessity.  (She was a little insane.)  They lived a life filled with excessive wealth; much of his youth was spent travelling through Europe.  When the stock market crashed, Mac was out on his own.  The family lost their money, but kept their stuff. He married one of his mother's nurses and that turned out to be the worst decision he'd ever made - she was a hag.  But, he took care of her all his life.  He refused to divorce her, but moved out in the early 60s.  They were both happier that way.  She still had access to his money, but not his philandering ways (one of his girlfriends taught mom how to drive - she knew them all).  He had his freedom and maintained contact with his daughter and grandkids.

He and his brother owned a newspaper in Syracuse, NY.  That wasn't enough for Grammy, so he got a job as head of the in-house printing shop for Harvard University and they moved to Boston.  They lived in the carriage house on the estate owned by the then treasurer of Harvard and Mac allowed Grammy to live a simulated life of wealth among the upper class.

Mac loved to visit us in small town Iowa.  That life was entertaining for him. One year he took a vacation to Hawaii and came back with slides for us to see.  In that little parsonage, the only large white space to show the slides was the shade covering the front window.  We all gathered for an evening of gorgeous pictures.  But, that wasn't exactly what Mac had planned.  Not only had he shot pictures of scenery, but relatively naked women in Hawaii.  All of a sudden Dad gasped and ran outside.  Oh yes ... there was mild pornography being shown through the windows of the parsonage.  Mac knew exactly what was he'd done.

I learned about the real Addams family from Mac.  Whenever I spent time with him, he pulled out Charles Addams' books.  They were filled with images drawn by Charles Addams for the New Yorker magazine.  Twisted and bizarre.  I loved them.

When I was ten, Mac was living in Iowa. Grammy wanted me to come to Boston for a visit, so Mac drove me in his VW bug.  We had a grand time.  Mom made him swear that he wouldn't drink while we were on the road, so if we stopped for the night at a hotel, he'd make me promise to tell mom that the drink he'd had was while we were stopped.  We stopped to see his brother David and they left me at his brother's apartment while they partied. I have absolutely no idea when they returned the next morning.  Those two men really enjoyed having a naive little girl with them.  They were hideous flirts and I was simply another offering to the waitresses.  We were surrounded by waitresses all evening long.  Two good looking older men, spending lots of money and a cute little girl who had NO idea what was happening.

One of my favorite stories was when we were driving through the mountains.  We kept seeing  signs that said "Watch for Running Deer."  Well, Mac decided to entertain himself and told me a story of how there were Indians in the mountains and they had lost one of their young braves.  He hadn't been seen for months and months and finally had begged the government to put up signs asking travelers to assist in looking for him.  I still didn't understand the joke when we came upon the sign that said, "Watch for Falling Rock." I kept a close eye out as we traveled for those poor lost Indian braves.

There are a lot of stories about Mac ... some I remember, some that others remember.  He was a character, though and I wish I'd known him differently than I did. But today I'm thankful for the things I do remember about him - both good and bad.  He's part of who I am and that's pretty cool.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Glorious Insignificance

We got new neighbors at our duplex and the first time I drove into the parking space, I was a little overwhelmed at the HUGE truck.  Driving around in my Jeep, I generally feel a little 'on top of the world.'  It's a nice sized vehicle and I rarely feel dwarfed unless I'm in the middle of a pack of semis on the interstate.  But, this guy's truck totally takes me down a few notches.  The thing is, the sensation occurs every time I park next to him.  Every time!  All of a sudden, I feel very small.

The other morning as I was driving, I had the same sensation, but from a different source.  The wind had blown leaves off the tree and those beautifully colored leaves had carpeted the lane and were also floating downstream on the river.  The trees on the hillside were changing colors, the cornfields were empty except for what the farmers left in them; in one field cows were munching away.  It was too much and my emotions just exploded.  I hadn't traveled a mile and had to pull over and just let the tears flow.

Several years ago Louie Giglio spoke at a Passion event on how small we really were.  Behind him, slide after slide of incredible pictures from NASA filled the wall.  God created those enormous galaxies.  This vast universe was created by our God.  In the big picture, we're pretty insignificant.

But ... this same creator knows every hair on our heads, every sparrow that falls. He created the intricacies of our bodies and each leaf on every tree.  From the vastness of the galaxy to the minutiae of the molecules that make it ... He is aware and He has a plan.

Sometimes people drive big trucks and I feel insignificant.  Sometimes I find myself surrounded by glorious beauty and I feel insignificant.

But then I realize that where it really matters, I am unique and a specific part of the plan God has for this world.  It might not be a big part, but it is still a part and I am called to do it with everything I am.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

What's up?

I love the idea of taking pictures of Yoda in different venues, but I only remember to take him with me some of the times and when I do toss him into the car, he seems to faceplant more often than not.  Poor stuffed Yoda.  I didn't take him to the laundromat with me or to the grocery store and both of those places could probably use a little bit of fun with Yoda.  I haven't yet figured out how I would explain him sitting in the children's seat of my grocery cart.  I'm sure I'd get a lot of funny looks and very few questions.  That means that most of the people would simply think I was nuts. (stop it)

This semester I ended up taking only 3 classes.  After the intensity of last semester with four classes, two of which were languages, I figured this would be a nice, easy term.  I was wrong in so many ways!  In fact, I was so wrong that one evening I threw a complete and utter tantrum all over my poor sister.  I was just angry.  It took me about an hour or so to calm down and realized that I actually HAD signed up for all of this, I just didn't like the way they were presenting it.  And ... it was my problem.  I calmed down.

I am taking an Introduction to the Old Testament course, which isn't exactly what I expected it to be.  But, really ... how in the world do you quickly look at 39 books of the Bible in one semester?  I have four fairly intense textbooks and we are moving through them quickly.  Is there any particular reason academic writing has to be so darned difficult to read? One of the authors insists on interspersing multiple subordinate clauses in his sentences.  By the time I've reached the fifth or sixth comma, I've forgotten the original intent of the sentence, much less the paragraph or chapter.  For someone who can finish a novel in a few hours, reading this slowly is frustrating.  I can promise you that I'm not actually retaining any more information at this pace than at my regular reading pace!

But the class is introducing me to things that I hadn't seen before and any time I can learn something new, I am happy.

My Christian Formation course is ... well ... hmmm.  Interesting will work, I suppose.  It really is difficult to be 52 years old, have a lifetime of walking with God, living within the church, acting on God's call in my life and then be treated like a 21 year old who has no idea what is coming in his or her life.  God and I have been forming my Christianity for a lot more years than you have been alive, Mr. Teacher.

This week has been a real struggle for me as we have looked at racial divisiveness and I have read posts by white men who refuse to even consider that they might stereotype others or have prejudices.  In the same posts, they disdain 'white male privilege' because they've had to work for everything.  As soon as that type of intense defensive behavior shows up, they don't understand that they are showing their true belief systems.  They are the ones who have been put down by the world ... a world in which someone from another race or culture is given opportunities. It actually broke my heart to read some of that underlying racism and the justification they have for it.  These are going to be our future pastors.

The last class I'm taking is Hebrews: Exegesis.  For an entire semester we will look at the book of Hebrews in the New Testament.  Now, ideally, we would all be well-versed in Biblical Greek, but the truth of the matter is ... we're not.  It's a struggle for most of us (me included, and I have had two strong semesters) to move past our English translations of the Bible to looking at the Greek.  But the depth of understanding is so profound when it actually happens.  There is a lot of work, but I love it.

I can get lost for a long time in reading and trying to comprehend all that the Greek is telling me.  I am forced to slowly move through the words - back and forth between translations - to try and understand why an English word was used when it feels as if another would be a better choice. I'm having fun with this class.

At the end of a day of this stuff, I usually feel like Yoda ... I faceplant into my pillow and try to turn it all off.

And now ... I think I've probably avoided my Greek long enough.  It's time to go back to work!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Giving Gifts (and a little on the Lion and the Lamb)

When I turned 50, my family gave me a beautiful piece of artwork entitled "Peace and Love" by Jim Shore.  I've always loved the imagery of the lion and the lamb together (long before the Twilight series employed it in books and film).

I wanted it to be from the Isaiah 11:6-9 passage which speaks of the peaceable kingdom, but while the lion and the lamb both exist in that passage, they don't actually come together.
    The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
    The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
    The infant will play near the hole of the cobra and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.
    They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Where does this imagery actually come from?  From my other favorite book of Scripture - Revelation 5:5-6.  In this passage, John is weeping because there is no one worthy to open the scroll.  An elder stops him and says, "Look the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals."  John then goes on to say, "I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne ..."

The Lion and the Lamb are one and the same and are found in the person of Jesus Christ.  That's really something amazing!

That's the explanation for my love of this image.  However, I'm afraid I went off on a tangent.  The purpose of writing this blog was going to be about gift-giving.

You see, my friend Fran, gave me another sculpture of the Lion and Lamb image by the same artist for my birthday.  It is gorgeous!  I absolutely adore the way the two animals look as if they are whispering to each other.

She gave me some really great gifts for my birthday. I was telling my sister about them and Carol made the comment that Fran really is awesome at giving gifts.  It is Fran's love language.  Every single gift she gave  was something she knew about me and had translated into a gift.

I'm an Iowa Hawkeyes fan and really the only candy I eat any more is m&ms.  That translated into this (sans Yoda):

We've enjoyed a few peach bellinis in our dinners out and I received a bottle of wine and a frozen bellini mix.  I have to tell you that when I pulled out the wine, she confused me, because I'm really not a big wine drinker and I couldn't believe that she had given me something like that.  Then I pulled out the bellini mix and it all came together.

See, the gifts were not about her ... they were what she knew about me.

Sometimes we give gifts because we think someone needs something and don't bother to understand whether they do or not.  The gifts are based on our thoughts and desires rather than theirs.  Some gifts are giving to bring attention back to the giver, not because it is anything at all the person would use or desire.

Some gifts are given because a friend shares out of their talent or bounty ... that is an entirely different and wonderful type of gift because then I get to learn about the things that you love and I will get a chance to fall in love with that as well. I have a friend here who has given me food from her garden and jars of honey they've harvested.  I had no idea they had honeybees, but she exposed me to something glorious!

Gifts that are given heart to heart are gifts that transmit love.  Not everyone has gift giving as their love language, but we all have the opportunity to share love through gifts.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Looking for Good Friends, We Are!

We celebrated a friend's birthday last night and she exudes joy whenever I see her.  Tracy fills a room with her joy and laughter and last night she filled a room with her friends so that they could meet each other and understand how important everyone was to her.  That was pretty cool.  A great way to celebrate a birthday.

As she told us last night about our importance in her life, I was reminded of C.S. Lewis and the importance he placed on his friends ... all of his friends.  This is a quote I have published before here and still continues to mean a lot to me.

“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out,” Lewis wrote. “By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him ‘to myself’ now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth … each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others.”
Christian History Magazine-Issue 88: C.S. Lewis: Pointing People to Reality. 2005. Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today.

Tracy was completely herself last night because of those people around her that bring out all her facets and make her shine. She was safe and loved and understood and allowed to be whatever it was she wanted to be.

That's true friendship! That's something we all yearn for and desire from the people with whom we surround ourselves.  No judgment, no attempts to fix our small inadequacies or blemishes, no worrying over mistakes we have made (or mistakes we will make).

I didn't intend to go down this path, but as I considered it, that's actually the relationship God wants to have with us.  He offers us safety and love and understanding and expects us to be what we want to be.  He doesn't really worry over the mistakes we make and will make over and over - He accepts us through those thing.  The things we consider to be blemishes and inadequacies, He sees as unique attributes of who we are.  His judgment is not about who we are ... but about our rejection of Him.

That relationship is rarely understood by humanity because we work so hard to make it more difficult than it is ... just like we mess with our friendships.  It is hard to just relax into a relationship that is safe because we insist on having to work at it, we can't believe that anyone would be able to see past our flaws.

The glory of all this is when we recognize in our friends the ability to make us more than we can be by ourselves and as we add people to that friendship, we become even brighter.

I strive to be the type of friend who loves beyond measure, accepts without reservation, encourages and believe in the people around me.  I love my friends.  They make me who I am, they offer me parts of themselves to ensure that I am complete.  What about you?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Are You Afraid? You Will Be!

Luke Skywalker is on Dagobah in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.  Yoda and Ben Kenobi are discussing the fact that the boy is too old to begin Jedi training.

Luke says: I won’t fail you. I’m not afraid.

Yoda: (turns slowly toward him) Oh, you will be. You will be.

(yes, I have the scripts for these three movies.  Good heavens, I didn’t realize how much my geekiness had permeated my existence!)

Yoda knew that fear would soon overwhelm Luke, in fact as soon as the training began with Luke entering the big, black, dark cave in a tree, the young boy would experience far more than he had even imagined.  The only thing that Luke would find inside the blackness was what he took with him and that would be nothing more than his soul and his wits.

Mom was afraid of closed doors.  She became paralyzed by a closed door because she couldn’t see what was on the other side. She wasn’t afraid to walk into a room, no matter the experience, as long as her eyes allowed her to view the layout and whatever might be awaiting her. Her close friends and family knew this fear and generally went along to open doors for her.

She wasn’t afraid to speak to large and small groups of people or take college courses as an adult, or paddle a canoe in whitewater, or run for the school board, or raise a family in Iowa after having lived as a pampered debutante in Boston, or even to die; but the first time she entered a room, she needed someone else to open the door.

I thought this fear had only been communicated to her family until a friend of hers told me that the two of them had taken college courses together.  Mom helped Sonna recognize that she was smart enough for college and Sonna opened classroom doors on the first day of class.

Revelation 4:1 says that John saw an open door leading to the throne room in heaven. Jesus tells us in John 10:9, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.”  I guess I’m glad that Mom had an open door … an open gate to make it into heaven or she might never have left earth!

I have discovered that my greatest fear is imperfection.  I simply shut down because I look for reasons that I can’t do something as well as another person.  I gauge my expertise and will not attempt something because it won’t live up to some insane standards I have created.

I find myself setting too many good ideas aside because I am so afraid of either failing or doing a mediocre job.  You can tell me over and over that multitudes of failures will finally lead to success and that the journey is more important that the accomplishment.  Even though I believe you, I can’t apply that sentiment to my own life. My fears of failure or mediocrity paralyze me into inaction.

Yoda knew before Luke entered into training that the boy would face some of his greatest fears.  When Luke had to look in the eyes of his worst enemy – Darth Vader, he did so first in training.  Yoda hoped to give him strength and confidence.

We can tell the world that we aren’t scared, but in the darkest, most hidden places of our hearts, we find our fears.  Oh, we will be afraid.  We will be afraid.

The question we have to answer is what we do with that? Will we allow it to swallow us up or will we keep moving forward, even if it requires employing the help of our friends and family to open doors for us?

I have a lot of things I would love to do and when I let my fears take over, I do none of them.  When I recognize them for the ridiculous notions that they are … I move forward.

John tells us that pefect love casts out all fear. (1 John 4:18)  I think I will continue to seek out perfect love instead of trying to accomplish my goals.  I’m betting that both will come to me in tandem.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Yoda and Me

Max gave me Star Wars stuff for my birthday last week.  One item was an 18" stuffed Yoda.

He talks if you press on his chest.  The first thing he said to me yesterday was "Do. Or do not. There is no try." I kept pressing to get the rest of his programmed pronouncements, but that is one of my favorites.  And one that I need to hear regularly.

It is so easy for me to start projects and go no further than the beginning ideas.  While that is great for some people, moving forward and accomplishing something is more important to me than just being an idea person.  I'm GREAT at being an idea person.  I have tons of those.

I have learned over the years that I don't tell anyone about my ideas until I'm committed to finishing them.  That way I don't make the world crazy with my half-baked attempts to change the world.  There is nothing more frustrating for me than to watch people announce great plans and ideas only to never see any follow-through.  Heck, I get frustrated with fabulous television pilots that never get off the ground.  If you're going to publish an idea ... commit to it.

Anyway ... so ... I'm a Star Wars addict and love the characters.  I've probably created more back story and characterization for each of them than actually exists in film and story and I get a little offended when George Lucas screws with them, but that's my problem.

My Yoda (I'm going to always have to clarify that he's Diane's Yoda or My Yoda - because I know he's not the real thing ... see what I did there?  I know the other isn't the real thing, but ... oh well, sigh). Anyway, My Yoda is going to start doing things with me.  He's the perfect size.  He will travel easily, he's very photogenic and he's going to try to use the power of the Force to remind me to stay away from the Dark Side.  (please don't lecture me on Christian spirituality versus the power of the Force ... for goodness sake, I get it - this is only a flippin' metaphor).

Yesterday, Leica was a bit unsure about having him in the front seat of the Jeep with her, but she got over.  Actually, she just crawled into the back seat and curled up on a blanket.

Yoda has plenty of other things programmed into his little voice box.  We'll see what I have to say when he talks about living for 900 years!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Death and Facebook

I know that at my age I experience more and more death around me each year.  It’s just part of the process.  This last year has been interesting though, as Facebook has exposed me to death and dying in a new way.

Last fall, one of my college professors died and I fell apart.  The news hit our circle of friends within several hours of his death and soon there was a group for people who knew him well to come together; talking and writing about the ways they had interacted with him and been changed by him over the years.  While many of them attended his funeral in Cedar Rapids, we were having our own Memorial Service worldwide every day on Facebook. 

I experienced overwhelming grief during that time.  If I had simply heard the news that he had died, days or weeks after the event, I doubt my grief would have been so intense.  I would have processed the information, maybe spent some time grieving and moved on.  But, because I was relationally attached to others that were traveling through the same experience, I continued to process on my relationship with him and the intense loss that was felt because of his death.

Several months later, another friend from college died and I discovered it by seeing a friend post a Rest in Peace message on his wall.  Once again the community of friends that knew him came together to grieve over the loss of a friend and relationship that had been strong nearly 30 years ago.

Today many of my high school friends are walking together down the path of yet another friend’s imminent death.  One of our class members is with him daily, caring for him as a friend and the two of them are posting stories and encouragement for others as they travel this path. I am again sometimes overwhelmed by the grief that wells up within me while watching this process unfold. 

Facebook has exposed us all to many things as we reconnect with old friends and make new friends, but I woke in the middle of the night last night thinking about how it has changed the way we interact with each other in the grieving process. 

When my mother died, the outpouring of caring and affection was intense, but the grieving process was done in a pretty small space.  There were only a few of us that walked that road together for an extended period of time, before, during and after her death.  With our networks expanded over the internet, the number of people that offer support, love and comfort has grown exponentially!

I believe Facebook has done us a real favor by expanding our relationships and communities beyond the borders of towns and the small friendship circles we build.  We are learning how to care for each other on a larger scale, no longer limited by geography.

It doesn’t make it any easier for us to experience death, but it is so much more apparent that we are not alone and our friends care for us deeply, no matter the years or the distance.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sci Fi. Politics. Choices.

I’ve been watching the British sci-fi series, “Torchwood” for the last week or so.  It is part of the Dr. Who franchise and set in Cardiff, Wales.  Torchwood has branches throughout the UK and this branch is headed by Captain Jack Harkness, a handsome rake of a man. Torchwood handles alien encounters on earth.

Now, stick with me.  The point of this is yet to come. After two seasons of watching Torchwood manage alien situations, in the third season they encounter something much worse – political reaction to an alien incursion. Let me sum up the story and I will explain why this is still plaguing my mind.

Over the past thousands of years, these aliens arrived on earth, planted terrible plagues and wiped out large portions of humanity.  In 1965 they approached Torchwood and announced they wouldn’t destroy earth if humanity would provide twelve children.  Poor decisions were made and twelve children from an orphanage, who were assumed to be the least and the lost were delivered into their hands (yup, bright lights, alien sounds – just what you’d expect). 

They returned in 2010.  A politician who had been part of the 1965 decision is still working and rather than ask Torchwood to help, decides to cover it up, since letting the public know what had happened would raise great ire.  He continues the cover up and when the aliens tell him to build a chamber, does so with the support of those higher up in government than he (all the way to the Prime Minister).  They go so far as to murder anyone still alive who knew about the 1965 decision, including Captain Jack (who doesn’t really die because of another cool scifi idea). 

They are at the precipice of a very slippery slope.

An alien ‘diplomat’ arrives (into the specially designed chamber) and after discussion, they finally discover what the aliens desire - ten percent of humanity’s children.  The leaders of the globe’s nations are apprised, appalled and work begins.

The original politician returns to the alien and offers 62 children.  This is the number of children the UK government knows could go missing without garnering public attention.  The alien kills people in the immediate vicinity in his fury, then insists everyone on earth will be destroyed unless they receive ten percent.  The deadline is set and we move to the Prime Minister and council.

They debate and discuss and agree to meet the alien’s demands, but how?  The discussion is as sickening as you can imagine.  They choose not to tell the public and to come up with a ruse to gather the children.  Then they discuss which children should be in the lottery.  Obviously their own children will not be used.  They chose to avoid the upper class schools, because those children had better grades and would likely be doctors and the intelligentsia that would assist in rebuilding society.  So, it fell to schools in poorer sections of the UK, where grades were lower.  (By the way, their basis for gathering this information was government testing of students that had been occurring for schools to receive funding.)

As I watched the story progress, with military being used to scoop up children, ripping them out of mother’s arms and away from teachers trying to protect them, chasing them through city streets, beating adults who tried to stop them, the panic growing moment by moment in the streets and in the hearts and minds of the political leadership who saw a deadline fast approaching and not enough children to hand over, my heart just wrenched.

The morality of the political leadership deteriorated into nothing. They were so intimidated by the greater power; they were willing to allow something as heinous as the destruction of children to take place.  They covered it up because of their fear of retribution and their shame.  They made decisions regarding who had a right to live, without regard to equality.

This slippery slope is something I believe we all face – deciding who is and isn’t worth the protection of the government.

In the last few weeks there has been discussion regarding Florida’s intention to force welfare applicants into mandatory drug testing.  I’ve seen comments stating that since taxpayers support the welfare system, and many taxpayers have to take drug tests to work in their job, this is appropriate behavior.  No … the private sector is very different from the government and the moment we allow the government to begin taking away the rights of those who have little or no voice is another moment we begin tipping over the precipice down that slippery slope.

The government’s job should be to protect everyone – even from itself.  And if it won’t do so, then the populace should stand and demand that protection.  The least and the lost who have no voice – whether they are drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, or young mothers who are trying to raise children on their own – deserve as many rights as the rest of us who live better than we should, with food on the table, access to our own drugs and alcohol, parties and depravities. 

We should never agree to rights being stripped from a certain group of people.  We should never allow a government to reduce itself to doing so, because when it is hard-pressed to make a decision, rights will be stripped from everyone in order to protect those in power.  While they justify it as protecting the greatest number of citizens, the truth remains the same … when a small group is sacrificed to protect a larger group without impunity … no one is safe.

How did the story end?  Well, it wasn’t pretty.  Captain Jack figured out how to destroy the alien and frighten the aliens away from earth, but in doing so, he had to sacrifice one thing that was closest to him – his grandson.  He didn’t give the child a choice either – maybe the child would have chosen to be that sacrifice, we’ll never know.  It was a Catch-22 situation and no one won.  The strange thing is, sometimes that happens. 

Sacrificing others is never the right answer.  Sacrificing yourself … that’s an entirely different story.

I’m not finished thinking about how we treat those who are the least and the lost.  I’m probably not finished writing about it either.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Interpreting my Writing

When I write, my mind is filled with thoughts, images, memories and words that impact those that I am putting on paper.  It’s a profound thing for me to get simple words out there to express all that I have happening in my mind.

At the same time, I realize how much of the depth of my thoughts are missing from those simple words.  It really shows up when people comment on a single expressed thought of mine  that really had little to do with the overall idea of the post. 

But, those words triggered thoughts, images, memories and words for that person which had nothing to do with mine.  That is glorious on one level and to be honest, a little disconcerting on another level.  It always makes me wonder what connection I left out to make them diverge from the path I was walking towards.  Someone I missed writing words that would emphasize the point I tried to make.

However, I always realize that though the words I write come from within my heart, when I put them out there for others to read, they are there to be assimilated into someone else’s heart. 

As I study the New Testament and focus especially on the words of Paul, I recognize the skill of his writing.  He had to encourage and challenge his readers in ways that would define the theology of the church.  Many misunderstood his words, took them out of context, and even interpreted them in hundreds of different ways.

The early church fathers moved further and further away from the simplicity of the message of Jesus Christ as the original twelve apostles died and their students began teaching the message of the Gospel.  At some point, leaders in the church began focusing on various doctrines, and re-wrote those doctrines to suit the needs of the church as they saw it.  They didn’t re-write scripture, but their written interpretations were set down as church law … especially those that were in power to do so.

The emphasis on moral responsibility became so great that the lost any sense of graciousness and love.  While moral standards are set forth in the New Testament, Paul’s letters are filled with admonitions to love first.

Paul’s words for Christian living and the words of James in his epistle were separated from the words of Jesus that emphasized love and forgiveness.

It’s not easy to write and be sure that people will understand the thoughts you want to express.  The few words that I do get down on paper represent only a small portion of the information that continues to fill my mind.  You bring to my writing your own life and interpret it according to the things that are happening for you as you read.

It’s incredible that this form of communication is able to exist.  But, it does allow us the adventure, doesn’t it!!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Love me some internet

I hope that many of you know me well enough by now to know how important the internet is to me.  It has been for a very long time.  I first got 'on-line' in 1987.  My brother talked me into checking out GEnie, which was General Electric's new idea for connecting people.  They took their intra-net, made it available in many cities around the country and with a modem, I was talking to people all over the place.  It was extraordinary and a wonderful way to meet interesting people.

There are still interesting people out there to meet and things to learn, friends to interact with and when the internet goes down in my little corner of the world, I become quite unhappy.

Several years ago, a terrible winter storm came through and knocked power out to the city.  Max packed up a laptop and me and took me to Borders.  It was safer weathering the storm out there than the storm that was me.  Fortunately our power returned much earlier than most other places in the city and we were able to be at home.

A few years later, when a summer storm took out the power, we just packed up and went to Carol's.  She still had power which meant I could get online and, oh by the way, be cool in her air conditioning. 

The last few days, here at Bell's Dell, as I've working diligently on classwork, the internet has slowed and messed around on me.  I began to think I was having trouble with the wireless router, so I talked to Max about replacing it.  Then, all of a sudden ... nothing.  NOTHING!!!

I use the internet up here for my telephone.  I use Skype.  My cell phone won't work here (except intermittently) because we are down in a valley - and there is little to no reception.  There's no need to pay for a landline to come in - Skype works fine.  But, guess what - it's an internet phone!  I'm not terribly comfortable being by myself without communication options. 

As I worried about the wireless router, I realized that Skype was still on - even when I had no internet.  I called Max.  Yup ... no problem communicating.  He told me that the internet comes in on one port, Outlook uses a different one, and Skype uses yet another.  So ... that was a problem with the service provider, not me. 

Oh ... and Diane ... pull the ethernet cable out of the wireless router and bring it to your computer - hardwire the thing.  Does it work?  Still ... no.  So, it's a provider problem. 

Up and down it went last night ... my frustration ebbed and flowed.  I was stuck reading dry Church History rather than interact on the forums in my classes and watch my Greek classroom videos, etc.  It had to be read ... but, yikes!

So that's where I was yesterday - no internet, no posting, a little frustration, but extremely grateful that I was still able to communicate with the outside world if necessary.

Do you remember when Egypt's government turned the internet off a few weeks ago?  That's what would have sent me to the streets in protest, I promise!  Immediately after that, our government began looking at ways that they could turn the internet off.  Really?  Really?  Don't EVEN think about it!  That's just crazy talk, all around!

Oh ... I'm back today.  Thank heavens!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Global Christianity

I just finished reading the book, "Back to Jerusalem" by Paul Hattaway for my Christian History course.  When I began reading it, I was confused as to its connection to Christian History, but as I made my way through and thought about it, I realized that it couldn't have been more appropriate.

The book is the story of Chinese Christians.  These are men and women who have been through the most incredible persecution, yet believe in the calling that they have received from God.  Western missionaries took the message of Jesus Christ into China and in the 1920s and 30s, Chinese Christians began to hear from God that it was up to them to complete the mission that Christ had set forth in Acts 1 - to take the Gospel message to Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria and then into the world.

Their mission was to take the Gospel the rest of the way ... going west out of China into the countries between there and Jerusalem, finishing in Jerusalem.  They would evangelize countries that were filled with Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims.  At the same time, they would complete the evangelism of their own country.

In the 40s, Mao came into power and Christians began to be tortured and persecuted for their faith.  Pastors were thrown into prison.  The Cultural Revolution in China had begun and Christianity had no place.  Foreign missionaries fled the country and those that didn't also faced incredible persecution and imprisonment.  Eric Liddell, the Scottish runner whose story was told in "Chariots of Fire, died in a Chinese prison camp after having spent years there as a missionary. Many of the Chinese Christians who had heard the call to go west, were thrown into prison, beaten and starved, simply because they were Christian.

The book tells the story of some of the people that faced this persecution and describes in glorious detail the transformation of the church in China during this time.  Rather than fall apart, the church grew at an incredible pace.  When forced to eliminate any physical symbol of their faith, people simply gathered to tell their stories to each other - evangelizing and encouraging their friends and family.  Pastors had been stripped out of communities, but what might have become a leadership vacuum opened the way for the people of the community to do the work themselves.

During those dark years for Chinese Christians, Western missionaries assumed that the church had gone dormant, expecting to go back into the country and have to re-do all of their work.  What they found was a vibrant, rapidly growing community that continues to grow today.

Because of the persecution they have faced, Chinese Christians see their faith so differently than we do.  It is more important to them than anything. They refuse to deny Christ's lordship in their lives even if it means beatings and imprisonment, separation from their family or torture and starvation.  Nothing is as important to them as sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.

As they speak of continuing the mission to take the Gospel into countries that will reject and persecute them, they are prepared to face anything for the name of Jesus.  When asked if they have plans in place to escape to safety, they are shocked at the weak-willed Western Christians who hide from danger when spreading the Good News.  One of their great concerns is that the younger Christians will grow affluent and find it necessary to protect their stuff so they won't feel as impelled to walk the path God has called them to.  They know that persecution has given them something that we in the West don't have - freedom from fear.  There is nothing that they are afraid of when it comes to evangelizing the world.  The worst has already happened and if it happens again - they will either deal with it or they will die knowing that they stood true to Jesus Christ.

This book is a challenge to us and a word of victory.  The church in the West is falling apart.  More and more theologians and world-wide Christian leaders are recognizing that the Western Church no longer has the influence or the power that it did at one time to change the world.  But, that doesn't mean that there isn't a strong movement of God in the world.  Africa, Latin America and Asia are rapidly become new centers of Christianity - growth is incredible.  The largest church in the world right now is found in South Korea.

Church doesn't look like anything we recognize.  These worshiping communities aren't necessarily Roman Catholic or Protestant.  They are developing their own way of doing things - holding to the basic tenets of Christianity and creating glorious new ways of lifting their faith.

Pay attention to what is happening on a global scale in Christianity.  It will (and should) challenge you to be bold in your witness and will excite you as you recognize that God is moving.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

When Parents Lose Their Innocence

This afternoon a friend mentioned in a post that she was a bit worried about the sudden 'quiet' that had occurred in her household - worried about what awful things might be around the corner.

That made me think about a quick story - which of course led to other stories.

I don't know about the rest of you, but when my friends started having kids and I realized that they knew just as little then as they did when we were kids, I thought long and hard about how my parents always seemed as if they knew everything and were never surprised by the stunts the three of us kids pulled.  They had some serious poker faces, I guess.

Now, I think I would have enjoyed being a fly on the wall as they contemplated our demise and as they lamented their own loss of innocence due to the craziness three children brought to a home.

One day, when Carol would have been a baby and I was still just a toddler, Mom had to be gone for awhile.  Dad promised to stay with me, but he had absolutely no idea that watching me might require active participation.  He was quite grateful that I was such a good kid and left him alone so that he could relax and read the paper.  He knew where I was and since there was no screaming or crying, running around or noise, was fairly confident I was safe.

Until Mom got home.  She walked in ... saw the extent of the mess I had created right behind his chair with a couple of lipstick tubes and began howling with laughter.

"Frank, where is your daughter?" 

"She's right here."

"Do you know what she is doing?"

At that point, he knew that his sweet and wonderful little girl had made a fool of him.  He got up out of the chair, came around behind and that I had covered myself, my clothing, the back of the chair, the floor, the wall and everything else within reach in lipstick. 

"But she was quiet!"

"Frank, the time to worry is when the children are quiet."

His innocence had lasted just a short time.  I doubt that he ever let me out of his sight again.

Monday, February 14, 2011

What would happen if ...

I don't know where your best thinking happens, but mine happens in the shower.

Yesterday I managed to scrub the shower down - and of course I had to turn it on and turn the spray head all over the place to get it rinsed off.  That meant that this morning when I crawled in, the sprayer needed adjustment and fine tuning to get it back to where I like it.  As I was messing and messing with the thing, it occurred to me that I might be adjusting the sprayer to where I am used to having it, but maybe that wasn't the best place for it.  Would another position be even better?  Would I be able to function if I changed things around a little?  Even if it was different and I had to adjust my worldview?

I believe in change.  I believe that the best way to grow and experience more in this life is through change.  As long as we are in control and force things to remain the way they have always existed, we are pretty much guaranteed to stay the way we have always existed.  We won't see more, do more, experience more or grow more.  We'll stay the same.

There is nothing more frightening in a church than to try to change things.  Everyone has a reason that things should stay the same and weak leadership will allow them to keep the status quo.  Pastors move into a church and know that the first year brings no changes because the reaction will be hideous.  It's enough that the pastor has changed.  I have never encountered such venom and fury as when a church member gets confronted with change.  Even if it has the potential to make things so much better. 

Studies show that we can hold aging problems at bay (such as Alzheimers) if we make small changes in our lives on a regular basis.  Do you put your socks on the same way every morning?  What if you were to put the other sock on first - would that freak you out and upset your entire day?  What if you were to flip the toilet paper roll so that it spun the other way?  What if you did your grocery shopping on Friday evening instead of Monday morning (you'll probably find a lot fewer people in the store!). 

What if you were to give someone the benefit of the doubt before believing the worst about them?  What about giving this week's savings away to someone who needs it and relying on God to provide rather than yourself?

What could happen to you if you adjusted the shower head tomorrow morning just a little bit?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Beautiful day - intense homework

Today was one of those homework days that I did my best to avoid.  Beautiful temps outside, melting snow and ice, sunshine ... all of that made it kind of difficult to focus on writing responses to questions regarding Church Doctrine.

I also have scrubbed the toilet and the shower - didn't get the fridge cleaned out, but hey ... I had to get some homework done.  And there's a Hebrew quiz coming up tomorrow that I should try to attempt preparing for.

First question of the day was based on reading in our Church Doctrine textbook.  How could I use the information I was reading to explain that God exists to an agnostic.  Whoa.  Nothing like pulling out the easy questions in the first week of class.

I read a few responses from some of my classmates and became increasingly frustrated with their 'pat' answers.  You see, I know quite a few agnostics and there isn't going to be any convincing them with answers from the text.  That's just the reality.  An agnostic and an atheist carry two completely separate belief structures.  An atheist says God doesn't exist and an agnostic affirms that there is no way to know whether God exists or not.  They acknowledge the possibility, but can't confirm it based on their knowledge or experience.

Trying to explain to a person in either of those camps that God exists based on information from the Bible turns into circular reasoning since God wrote (through men) the Bible.  There is no way to prove that point intellectually.  And you can not separate intellectual belief from faith. Having a conversation regarding God without acknowledging that everything within you is based on belief and faith - not scientific reasoning - just insults everyone involved in the conversation.

But, the author of the textbook had some really pointed things to say to Christians and the first of those is that we can't sit on the sidelines and not be intellectual about our faith.  We must have some understanding of the Scriptures and be prepared to stand for our faith.  "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect." (1 Peter 3:15)

With baptism, came teaching ... from the earliest days of the church.  Christians aren't supposed to be slow-minded morons, we are to be quick with a response and assure those around us that our faith is based on the truth that is found in God.

The author also said that long before we discuss the idea of God's existence, we must define who it is that God is.  What is the nature of God?  These are the things that Christians should be prepared to answer when speaking to someone who doesn't yet believe in God.

Finally, for me, I believe that I can say everything there is to say - as articulately as possible - and it will not do any good unless a person is willing to hear those words. God's call on that heart will open it to hear His truth.  It may not be my words - it may be someone else's.  It may not be words at all.  It isn't my job to bring the world to Christ - it is simply my job to share Christ with the world.  He will do the rest.

With that, I probably will drive a few of my classmates insane.  These poor young men are trying so hard to be intellectuals in a class being taught be an incredibly brilliant man.  I'll just play the 'simple young girl from southeast Iowa card' and continue the process of learning.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bye Bye Cable Television

The end of football season brought the end to another season at our house.  Max returned the cable box and canceled cable television and our landline telephone yesterday.  When I think about the amount of money we will save each month with this choice, I'm almost giddy!  We'll just hope that he and I don't come up with some other creative way to spend it.

Don't get me wrong, I still like watching television shows - I have my favorites this year and watch many of them on various internet sites.  But, I have to admit that up until a few years ago, television was just invasive in my life.  I was thankful for it when I couldn't sleep at night - I'd watch all sorts of wild stuff on Nick at Nite or TVLand, but then I realized that even though I was trying to distract my mind from the craziness it was focusing on from the day, watching television didn't relax me enough to put me back to sleep ... the distractions just made it worse.

Three years ago, we considered purchasing a large-screen tv, but chose to not do that and spend the money elsewhere.  Everything changed for me.  I bought a Kindle and began reading like the reading fiend I was when I was younger - you know ... back before Cable TV really even existed in small town Iowa.

Max says that right now the only thing he misses is the additional clock on the cable box.  All that is left in that room is the clock on his computer.  Well, honestly, that's all I use anymore too.  He'll adjust - or get another clock.

I really don't want to sound pious regarding this decision - I hate when people talk about 'fasting' from television or the internet or other things that have become conveniences in our lives.  That short period of fasting really doesn't transform them - it just annoys the rest of us.  And eliminating the cable box from our lives isn't going to transform us - unless you call saving that kind of money transformational and by golly, I'm looking forward to that part of it!!!

The other part of this equation is the impact that eliminating cable from many people's lives because of streaming shows on the internet.  The newspaper industry has managed to fall apart because they didn't handle the transition to digital well - will the cable industry do the same?  Will this media industry be better prepared for change, or will they insist that dinosaurs still roam the earth?  And isn't it interesting that an industry that began in the 70s and grew so rapidly for several decades could face decimation because they aren't prepared to change.

It's going to be fascinating to watch!  But not on a television for me.

Friday, February 11, 2011

First week of classes - and I'm off ...

Alright.  That's it.  I'm fairly certain I have killed my brain.  I have to quit studying and processing information - right now!

Well, that isn't going to work too well.  I still have a blog post to get written and posted tonight over on my Pour Out a Blessing blog.  Fortunately, those are more of a joy than a challenge for me.

I have read about The Trinity in Theology this week, begun reading "Classic Christianity," which is for my Church Doctrine class.  From the reading in that book I am supposed to respond to a question about having a conversation with an agnostic regarding the question, "Does God Exist."  Some of my classmates are answering that question and I'm afraid that I'm going to end up disagreeing with their premise.  I do not believe that I can convince an agnostic of anything.  Believing in and having faith in God is not something that is an intellectual pursuit.  And until God prepares a person's heart and mind, my words will have no impact - much as I like to think that I have great words.  So ... I'm processing on my response to that.

The reading for my Church History class is interesting.  The book is, "Back to Jerusalem" by Paul Hattaway.  He discusses the evangelistic mission of the Chinese church.  In reading this book, I think that these Christians are far ahead of most westerners with regards to the mission field.  This in an incredible read - really exciting stuff.  I'm not terribly sure how this fits in with the beginnings of church history.  The only thing I can think is that our professor is Chinese and she wants us to understand where she is coming from.  I have to get a paper written on that book by Monday.

I'm diligently working on the Hebrew alphabet.  I woke up this morning and was able to picture all of the consonants in my mind along with their English transliterations.  I need to continue working on the vowels.  This is such an interesting language.  Vowels don't actually have forms of their own - they are attached to the consonant that precedes them in the form of a dot or character underneath the consonant.  I'm training myself to read right to left and hoping to understand more of it as we go.  It will come.

Tonight I watched the first lecture for Greek 2.  Just about the time I think I'm grasping concepts, he opens up new and more difficult issues within the language.  But, he does keep reminding us that English is a most difficult language to learn and comprehend, so I'll try not to complain as I learn.  I'll probably fail at that.

There will be no weekend for me.  Two language quizzes every week, papers due nearly every Monday, discussions that I have to post every Thursday for one class and every Sunday for another class as well as be responsive to other class members posts.  It's exciting and ... grueling.  But, I'm off and running!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mom - Always Right

I have talked about Mom quite a bit on this blog and everything I've always said about her is true.  She was an extraordinary woman. 

Tonight, however, as I was remaking a bed here at the cabin, I had to lie down because I was laughing so hard.

Notice that the headline for this blog is "They Call Me the Oracle."  I try to keep my mouth shut, unless I'm pretty sure that I'm right and even then, I tend to be wrong a lot of the time.  But, I come by this whole 'oracleness' honestly.  Mom absolutely hated to be wrong.  She hated it.  And she would wait as long as it might take to be proved correct.  Most of the time it didn't take that much time.

When I was just starting to school, for some reason or other, she felt it was necessary for me to be reminded every morning to put my underpants on.  I don't remember it being an issue, but it must have been.  Every single morning before I walked out the door to head for school, she would ask if I had underwear on and every single morning I assured her that I did.  Until I had finally had enough and decided that it was time to get a little rebellious.  I told her that I did and I didn't!  Imagine that!  I got halfway down the block and I hated the feeling, so I ran home and had to tell her the truth and go upstairs and put my underpants on. 

There were three very strong-willed children in that home, living with two exceptionally strong-willed parents.  It seemed as if there was always tension about who was right.  Mom and Dad had wonderful discussions (or arguments) about words.  They'd sit at the dinner table and go back and forth about a word until finally someone would head for the dictionary.  We didn't want to do that first - the entertainment was gone, but to end it ... the dictionary came out.

Well, what struck me this evening was as I was making the bed.  Because of the shape of the space here, the beds are up against walls.  As I was crawling across the bed to tuck that stupid top corner in (with both the bed pad AND the bottom sheet), I had a memory of my bedrooms.  I liked sleeping against the wall. Every time we moved into a new parsonage, I wanted to put my bed up against the wall.  Mom would argue with me and tell me that it would be more difficult to make my bed, but I would insist.  She'd warn me that she wasn't ever going to make my bed and I would assure her that I would do it.

I spent a lot of time cursing and huffing around trying to make those stupid beds while they were plastered up against those walls as a kid.  I did it. Because she told me not to.

When I moved into my very first apartment, Mom and Dad had driven me to Spencer, helped me unpack, got the bed built and then had to drive home - it was a 6 hour drive each way for them.  I remember looking at that bed.  For the first time I had a full-size bed - not a twin.  It was NOT going to be easy to make it unless I was smart.  So, I drug it around until it had space to move on both sides.

Mom never gloated and said, "I told you so."  Don't think that was normal behavior for her.  She often made sure that I knew she was right and I was wrrr ... wrrr ... wrrr.  Oh well - I wasn't absolutely correct.

But, as I huffed and puffed, crawling across the bed this evening to get it made, I laughed and laughed thinking about how much of her there is in me - and that as much as I hate being wrong, she hated it worse.  I'm pretty sure she would be standing over me as I made that bed, smirking.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

I Can't Remember

I've been thinking about my friends today.  Old friends, current friends, new friends ... all sorts of friends.

Then, I pulled out my Memory book from my senior year in high school.  I can't seem to find my silly yearbook anywhere right now, but this is actually more personal.  It was to be filled with pictures of my classmates, memories from the year, notes from my friends, graduation announcements ... all sorts of things.  I looked through some of the notes that people in my class wrote to me and just laughed and laughed.  Girls that I didn't know all that well ended their notes with "Friends forever."  Well, I never saw them again after I moved out of town.  Ok ... they were at the ten-year class reunion (the last one I attended), but we weren't friends - we were never friends.

That same girl wrote, "Do you remember in 7th grade when we fought all the time and your mom hated me?"  Oh good heavens, what a riot.  Because now, I don't remember any of that.  It's all gone.

Other friends made comments about things that must have made sense once upon a time, but are now so far out of my memory that I just stare at the words and wonder what we had been doing.

I love that taking pictures has gotten simpler for kids these days.  They will have images to trigger their memories.  I thought I took a lot of pictures in high school, and while I have some, there are so many things I would love to be able to see again, but the images are only a faded memory in the back of my mind.

There is no picture of my senior prom.  The one I attended with a girlfriend, because the mother of my boyfriend at the time decided at the last minute he wouldn't be allowed to go.  So, Mary and I dressed up, our mothers bought corsages for us, we drove to Oskaloosa for dinner and back to Sigourney for the prom. I wish there were pictures of that evening, because now that I'm far away from it, the pain is gone, the memory is barely there and it makes for a great story.

Our Senior Class trip is not recorded in the annals of my life with pictures.  It was quite a trip.  We went to St. Louis and the partying was extensive.  I bought some postcards at the zoo and at the Arch, but I don't have pictures to remind me of the cramped hotel rooms, craziness on the bus and passed out, drunken high school friends. Were the sponsors really that oblivious?

My memories of those years are so much stronger than my sister's memories, yet even so I have lost so much.  As I look through the book, I see names and pictures of kids that I should remember and I barely even register that they were in my class. 

Throughout the years, people have moved in and out of my life.  Some of them I remember well, others I can sense a niggling in the back of my mind that tells me I should remember and I don't.  There are employees that I hired and fired throughout the years at Insty-Prints and I have no idea what their names are any longer.  I'd give anything to have photographs reminding me of their place in my life (well labeled photographs, please).

Even today, I need to be more conscious of taking pictures when I am doing things so that in ten years I will remember the events and the people that I spent time doing things with.  If you see me and I look at you blankly, please don't be offended, just tell me your name again and I'll do my best to remember everything I knew about you.

Now ... where did I put that Memory book.