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. 

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Who am I?

I've spent some time lately thinking about what that 'one thing' is that I excel at.  If I had to choose one thing in my life that I wanted to do for the rest of my life, what would it be?

You see, I envy people who have a focus that drives them towards excellence.  There are those who have chosen to be great at one thing and drive themselves to be the best in their field.  That's not me.  It has never been me.

I am really good at a lot of things.  There are many things that I am passionate about.  My interests are varied and sometimes completely disconnected.

Cooking is a joy for me and I'm really good at it, but I'm not good enough nor am I passionate enough about it to open a catering business or work for a restaurant.

After working in the printing business for 20+ years, I have quite a bit of knowledge about graphic arts, design and layout.  But, honestly, there is no way I could stomach returning to that industry.  I also know that I'm not an artist and I would never be hired as one either.

Music is my background and creating music is a great source of joy for me.  I know that I am a really good pianist and accompanying is something that I do very well.  But, the idea of spending hours and hours in a practice room or sitting in front of a piano for the rest of my life removes all thoughts of joy of music from me.  My father desperately wanted me to be a concert pianist.  I removed that dream from him before I even left high school.  NO!  I envy those who focused on their music to become great performers in whatever genre they chose.

While I love, love, love leading worship and directing choirs and have been pretty darned successful in both of those areas of music, I don't foresee a lifetime of doing that.  Now, I will admit that these two areas would entice me to rethink my position if anything ever popped back into my reality.  Both bring me extraordinary joy.  But, for now ... I don't see that happening.  Especially when I'm work with and support people who are much better than me at worship leadership.

Speaking of leadership, I find that I can get passionate about that topic in a hurry.  Excellent, honorable leadership is lacking in so many areas today.  People have been put into positions of leadership that have absolutely no talent and no desire to be there other than the financial gain of their position.  It breaks my heart to see the pressure that is placed on them when they have no idea how to cope - and then to see the destruction of the teams they lead simply because that one person is so lousy at what they do.

Understanding and translating for others the intricacies and mysteries of scripture is one of my great passions.  There is nothing I love more than uncovering the very cohesive structure of scripture and finding ways to explain it so that everyone can find the joy of knowing what God says to us and why He says it the way that He does.

History, observation, technology, anthropology, grammar, writing, words/vocabulary, teaching, fiction, science fiction, research, books, psychology, philosophy ... on and on the list goes of things that I can't learn enough about or that I get passionately involved in.  And by the way, I'm probably one of the better internet researcher/stalker/looker-uppers you'll ever know. All of these things ... and yet, still I wonder.  What is it that I am specifically good at doing?  What is that one thing?

See ... that's the problem with me.  I think about ice skaters, performers, costumers, dancers, mathematicians, astronomers, astronauts, engineers, chefs, translators ... those who specialize in a field and live out their lives focused on a single goal.  I will never be like that.  I don't know how to be like that.

If I could just get someone to define who exactly it is that I am and create a position with a good job description for me to do all of those things that I love to do and can get passionate about doing, I'd have to kiss that person's face!

Monday, February 07, 2011

First Day Out

I was anxiously anticipating having my online courses open up so I could begin working through whatever projects and reading might come at me as quickly as possible.  Since I managed to sleep late, I have no idea what time they actually opened the courses up, but once I was up, I got busy.

There were 3-ring binders to organize, textbooks to sort through, dates to mark on the calendar, syllabi to read, introductory videos to watch, personal introductions to write and then I could begin working through the class requirements for the first week.  Fortunately, the professors go pretty light this first week out, but in looking forward, I think I might want to use it to work ahead.  This is going to be rough.

I've chosen to take four rather intense courses: Greek 2, Hebrew 1, Church History and Church Doctrine / Theology.  I see the next several months filled with alien languages, great amounts of reading and a whole lot of papers.

My Doctrine / Theology course is being taught by a professor from Australia.  He lives down under and is teaching this from a long ways away.  Isn't the internet extraordinary?  I listened to his introductory video and find that I really enjoy that accent.  He's a strong believer in a great amount of reading and writing.  This is going to be a) good for me and b) quite challenging.

Several of the students that I was beginning to get to know last semester will be participating in courses I am taking this semester.  It's going to be fun to continue to interact with them.  The numerical difference between genders is still quite vast.  Pretty much 3 or 4 to 1.  Oh, and you know how I love running up against patriarchal male stereotypes in a classroom.  I even love it more when it comes from the women!  Sigh.

I began reading through my Hebrew course text today - oh dear heavenly days, this is going to be hard.  But, I knew I had to share some of the fun little tidbits of information:

A lot of the idioms and proverbs we are used to using in English come from Hebrew sayings found in the Bible.

Numbers 22:31 - fall flat on your face
Lamentations 2:19 - To pour out one's heart
Job 28:13 - Land of the living
Ecclesiastes 1:4 - Under the sun
Ezekiel 18:2 - Sour grapes
Isaiah 60:1 - Rise and Shine
Proverbs 16:18 - Pride goes before a fall
Job 19:20 - The skin of my teeth
Exodus 4:15 - to put words in one's mouth
Isaiah 40:15 - A drop in a bucket
Ecclesiastes 10:1 - Fly in the ointment
Daniel 5:5 - to see the writing on the wall

The authors go on to list Hebrew words we have incorporated into our language - abbot, Armageddon, behemoth, camel, hallelujah, hosanna, jubilee, sabbath, sack, satan; as well as names from the Old Testament.  The sentence that took me back though was this, "In fact, the name Michael, which means 'who is like God?' may be humanity's oldest continuously used name."  How cool is that?

So, this afternoon I will begin learning how to identify Hebrew characters as letters and how to read from right to left.  I'm terribly afraid that my brain might seize up at some point, but I'll go forward with anticipation and confidence!

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Opportunity Awaits

A week or so ago, I had dinner at my favorite Chinese restaurant with some friends.  I opened my fortune cookie and read, "Opportunity awaits you next Monday."  As far as I knew, nothing much was going to happen the next Monday and it didn't.  But, I set the slip of paper on my desk and left it there.

Tomorrow I begin my second semester of seminary and to say that I am terrified is to completely understate the sensations occurring in my body.  I have chosen to pick up some very intense courses this semester, so much so that my academic adviser asked me twice whether or not I wanted to do this.  I assured him that I was confident I could handle it, but the further I got from his comment and the closer I get to the semester beginning, the more I am completely unsure if this is a good idea.

Tonight, instead of watching the Super Bowl, I will be looking over Greek notes, exploring the Hebrew alphabet and generally acting like a crazy person.  (I will, however watch the ads.)

Now, believe me. I don't put any stock at all in fortune cookie fortunes, but I moved some things around and found that little slip of paper and I thought - "It wasn't last Monday, it was tomorrow this little piece of paper is talking about."

I've been completely wrong in the way I approached this coming semester.  I've been scared out of my mind, rather than seeing it as the opportunity that it is.  Oh, I looked forward to the learning, but I have been so afraid that I couldn't handle it, I missed the opportunity of anticipating.  I focused on the things I did wrong last semester rather than recognize that I did well in all my classes, met some wonderful people and began an educational process that thrills me.

So, I've emptied out my bookshelves in preparation for the books that will fill them throughout this next week. 

There is nothing I enjoy more than learning.  Absolutely nothing.  Hmmm, let me just think about that again and make sure.  Nope ... nothing.  Why in the world am I terrified of the process that leads me to learning?

A little slip of paper.  No, I don't believe in fortunes, but I do believe that God uses every piece of our world to remind us of how much He cares and how much He pays attention to us. I'm going to look forward to this process and do my best to enjoy every moment of it - even when it nearly kills me.  

I know that the semester is going to be really tough.  I've chosen to attack some difficult courses all at the same time.  But, when May arrives and I find myself at the end of the process, I'll breathe a huge sigh and start looking forward to the next part of the adventure.

Saturday, February 05, 2011


I thought both of my parents had great hands.  Mom's were used for so many different, creative things, yet were strong and I thought she could do nearly anything.  Dad's were exceptionally strong.  I remember them wrapped around tools as he fixed things or made things around the house.  I remember both of them spanking my butt when I was little.  I thought that I wanted to have hands like they did.

However, as I get older, I realized their hands also showed their age and by golly ... I have those hands.  Wrinkly skin, damage from accidents and wounds throughout my life, permanent indentations from rings I wear.  I might just miss those young, supple fingers with skin that is smooth and unblemished.

I might miss that youthful look to my hands simply because every single time I look at my hands, I realize just how much they've been through and what they've put up with in all of these years.

When I was junior high, a friend and I were running laps during gym class.  She took hold of my hand and began running with me.  She was on the inside, I was on the outside.  It was a very old gymnasium - brick walls surrounded us on three sides and cement bleachers on the fourth.  As we ran, we began to build up speed.  All of a sudden she was pulled away from me and the momentum propelled me directly into the brick wall in front of me.  The only thing I could think to do to save myself from an incredible concussion was to throw my right hand up between my head and the wall.  I got a good thunk and ended up on the ground and then immediately panicked.

I was one of several accompanists for the state music contest and it wasn't far away.  What would I do if my hand was damaged and I couldn't play?  As fear washed over me, I wiggled my fingers and realized that I was going to hurt, but I'd be ok.

That wasn't the first time nor would it be the last time I did major damage to my hands or to one of my fingers.  Dad loved the idea of giving power tools to me as Christmas gifts, but he absolutely refused to purchase a table saw for me.  He insisted that he was not going to be responsible for me cutting off part of my hand.  He loved listening to me play the piano too much.  I just figured I would learn to accept that and live without the saw.  I've been ok without it.

I've burned my hands too many times to count - pulling things in and out of the oven, I've smashed fingers in car doors and dropped loads of wood onto them while they were pressed against concrete.  I've ripped fingernails off while pulling pieces of paper out of the printing press and cut them on glass that's broken in my hand.

But, I've also held nephews and nieces after they were born, played the piano for weddings and funerals.  I've directed choirs and typed letters, stories, papers and many other things.  I've brushed hair out of my eyes when driving with the windows down on a beautiful day.  I held my mother's hand while she was in the hospital and lifted these hands in worship.

My hands look more like my parents' hands now than the hands I remember as a youth.  I might not like to have the moment by moment reminder of my age, but I do love they are part of my memories.

Friday, February 04, 2011


I've been thinking about gifts.  Giving and receiving gifts. 

What kind of gifts do you like to give?  Do you like to give gifts that someone wants or needs or do you prefer to give gifts that remind them of you?

One of the first years after Dad got remarried, we discovered that our stepmother had decided to go shopping for herself with our money.  Now, while I'm great with getting Christmas lists so that we don't provide the worst gift on the planet for people, we didn't receive a list from her with ideas, we received an item that we should purchase. 

Carol and I cut that off right from the get-go, but my brother didn't get on the bandwagon soon enough and called to tell us that not only had they received an exact idea for what she wanted, but she had gone so far as to cut out the ad for the item, circle it and circled the price.  They were expected to purchase that exact toaster for her for Christmas.  Not wanting to create waves and agreeing that if that was the item she wanted to receive, they purchased it and we proceeded with Christmas.

We also discovered that she had done the same with Dad.  For a man who had NEVER purchased clothing items in his life, she gathered catalogs, dog-eared the pages, circled the items (along with the cost) and presented that to him as what he would purchase for Christmas for her.

There was no spontaneity, no surprise and a whole lot of laughter.

We came from a family where Christmas was a delight.  There was never much money, but for months before Christmas and especially the weeks prior, Mom turned into a Christmas elf.  There were secrets and locked doors, sewing machines whirling, more locked doors.  I specifically remember the three of us as little kids sitting in the doorsill of the locked door to Mom's craft room.  I really wish there had been a picture of that.

She would wrap the gifts and place them under the tree.  We would pick them up and do whatever we could to try to identify them and there was even one or two of us (never me) that unwrapped and rewrapped gifts.  But, even when that happened, she managed to surprise the heck out of us with gloriously created presents.  Nothing we expected, but always what we wanted.

My husband has a terrible time trying to surprise me for Christmas.  I've gotten practical in my old age and don't see a good reason to spend frivolous money - especially when I'm trying to cut back on the stuff in my life.  Purchasing gifts for me is incredibly frustrating for him.  I try to give hints to Carol so that he has a little bit of help, but I know that he hates not being able to surprise me.  This last year, he managed to do so with some great, fun toys and I think that gave him no small amount of pleasure.

Mom's last Christmas with us was awful for her.  She was in the hospital for a long time before Christmas and didn't have a chance to do any shopping.  Christmas eve was the day she discovered the cancer had spread into her bones and her time with us was limited.  Her strength was giving out and we knew it wasn't going to be a fun holiday.  As we got ready to go to Christmas Eve services, she pulled out a couple of wrapped gifts.  She had gone down to the hospital gift shop and picked up simple, frosted nativity scenes for us.  They weren't anything spectacular, but she had to make sure her last Christmas gifts to us were meaningful. 

What kind of gifts do you like to receive?  Do you want to receive gifts that surprise and delight you, that bring memories or those that you choose?

You know, when I think about the gift that Jesus gave me on the cross, I don't know that I would have chosen that.  I wouldn't ask for someone to give His life for me so that I could live.  But, in the power of that gift, I find that I am surprised and delighted every day with the life it has opened up for me.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Creativity Tools

Are you creative?  Of course you are.  If you don't think so - take some time to think about it again.  Of course you are.

What tools do you use to express yourself?

I love to knit.  I don't do it very well, sometimes I will go for months without taking up yarn and needles, but I love it.

My mother was a wonderful knitter and when I got old enough, she attempted to teach me.  It didn't go so well.  Pretty soon she got frustrated and said, "With your talented fingers, I can't figure out why you can't learn this!" So, I went no further with it.  Knitting was just one of those things I needed to do, though.  Many years later, long after she had died, a wonderful little yarn shop opened in Omaha.  I wandered in, talked to the owner and asked if she taught classes.  Before I knew what had happened, I was learning to knit.  I took three classes from her on knitting and crocheting.

As happens with most of my obsessions, yarn began to take over my house.  I bought more than I could ever use and when I would set aside the needles for months on end, I knew that I would never be able to finish all the projects I wanted to create.  I have finally quit buying yarn and refuse to allow myself anything new until I use most of what I have. This is going to be a long dry spell for yarn purchases in my life, I can tell.

There are so many things that I enjoy doing that allow me to express my creativity.  I love to cook and bake, I enjoy playing the piano and singing.  I sew, have messed with most types of crafty things in my past life (and have the craft supplies to show for it - do you want some?), but the one area that makes me the happiest is when I put words to paper.

The funny thing about this is that Mom was a pretty amazing writer.  I never felt as if I could measure up to her incredible talent.  (Nope, not looking for you to disagree here.)  My early attempts at writing for grades were feeble, to say the least.  I compared myself to Mom and always came up lacking.  And to be honest, she wasn't all that great about helping me and giving me good advice.  She didn't do much to encourage me in that area.  In fact, if I look back at her conversations with me - they did more to stop me from writing than anything.

When I wanted to journal, she was fine with that, but told me to never put anything on paper that I didn't want my father to read.  Well, to be honest, I didn't want him to read anything, so when I would sit in my room, I would think of all these things I wanted to write down and stop myself.  I didn't write any of them down.  I didn't want Dad knowing my innermost secrets.

When I was in college, I had to take some crazy freshman writing course.  I kept getting low grades on the papers I handed in. No matter what I changed or what I did, I came up with these low grades.  Mom finally wrote a paper for me and I turned it in.  When I received the paper back, there was a big, red "C" on the top of the paper.  This was at the University of Iowa.  At the same time, Mom was taking courses in the English and Literature Department and received incredible remarks for the writing she was doing.  She tossed the paper at me and told me that I didn't need to worry about the grade in that class, it was obvious that the TA who was teaching it had no idea what she was doing.  But, we never really sat down and went through the issues to see what was good and what was bad.

Fortunately there came a point when I moved past a lot of that (obviously it still haunts me, but moving on is good).  I would sit at my desk when I was younger with a blank piece of paper in front of me and pen in hand, poised over the sheet.  I could sense the tension between my brain and that blank sheet and was desperate to put words down that might mean something.  All along, I knew that writing was foundational for me.

I still enjoy sitting down with paper and pen, but thank heavens for the computer.  If I'm stuck and can't seem to get my hand to write, I can generally force a few words (which gets me started, if nothing else) onto a computer screen.  I type so much faster than I write and that way I can keep up with my brain when it spins out of control.

Pen and paper are still my favorite ways to think on paper, but the computer is another great tool for me when I want to express myself.

What are your tools for creativity?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Simple Pleasures

I'd like to think that I'm simplifying my life - eliminating unnecessary stuff and limiting myself to purchases that will be used over the long term.  I hate the fact that I am such a consumer and that it doesn't take much for me to process through something and then be finished with it.  Lately that means I've tried to really think about purchases that I make and items that I use.  Instead of just tossing something into the cart, I question myself pretty hard about its potential outcome and find that it isn't so difficult to just leave things on the shelf.

With that said, I found something the other day at the grocery store that simply couldn't remain on the shelf and when I weighed the $2 cost against its potential demise in my world, I figured I just couldn't resist.

It's a pepper keeper!  Isn't it wonderful?  How did I justify this?  Well, every time I use a portion of a green pepper, I put the rest in a zip lock bag and store it in the fridge.  I toss out the bag before I get a new pepper, so that's waste - right?  On the other hand, this will be washed out and ready for the next pepper as soon as it comes into the house.  By the way, I love green peppers and this will be used all the time.

Another absolutely favorite item is my cast iron skillet.  I didn't grow up using one of these.  Oh, every once in awhile, mom would go on a kick and use hers for awhile, but it ended up in a cupboard at the cabin and has long since been taken to Goodwill.  Once I discovered the joy of a well-seasoned and well-used cast iron skillet, I have never wanted to use anything else.

I cook nearly everything in this - including pizza - with my own great pizza dough and my own ingredients.  I'd forgotten how good homemade pizza could be.  I love that it the skillet works in my oven and on the stovetop.

One other item that I hate the idea of living without is my bread machine.  I'm on my third machine.  The last two wore out and I'm hoping that this will hold up for quite some time, but I use it constantly.

I finally broke down a few years ago and purchased a gorgeous machine. I work this thing to death. I could get a little more experimental with it and try some of the wild bread recipes that are out there, but for the time being, I love making bread for my friends and I'll keep it busy with the bread I know.  My Grandmother Greenwood baked bread every week and I spent a lot of time with her learning how to mix and knead the dough.  She taught me what I need to know to do this by hand, but I do love the machine.

As I glance around, I realize there are a couple of other things in the kitchen I don't want to have to live without - my glorious mixer and my toaster.  I live for toast.  Right now I don't have the perfect toaster - someday I'll find it, but until then, I'm happy with what I have.

Simplifying my life isn't as easy as I want it to be.  I can't get rid of stuff fast enough.  I know if I invite my sister into my space, it will all be gone in a whirlwind.  Consequently, she's not invited ... yet.  Someday I'll get to the place where I just need it to be gone and I'll call her up.  I'm just not ready for it yet.

While I process on all of that, I'll enjoy using these things that make me happy in the kitchen.

By the way ... I'm not much for beautiful photography of things in the kitchen. I'm fine with being utilitarian in my photos. If you want to spend some time with a beautiful young woman who sees the world through the lens of her camera and has lately taken that camera into her kitchen, check out my friend Alison's blog at "This Homemade Life."  You will love her stuff!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Calendar Changes

Paper calendars are much more useful to me than digital calendars.  I tried. I really tried.  I spent many years trying to manage my calendar in Outlook and I couldn't ever figure out how make it bring my world into perspective.  Everything always seemed limited to what the screen could tell me.  I know, I know - those of you who are dedicated digital calendar aficionados think that my simple paper calendars limit me as well. I manage my contacts digitally, I live in the cloud as much as I possibly can and still, my calendar insists that it needs to be on paper.

There is something immensely satisfying about ripping the page off my calendar and uncovering a fresh sheet with blank boxes to be filled.  Changing pages on the calendar makes me aware of how quickly time passes, yet gives me the sensation of new opportunities being made available to me.

Within no time, those blank boxes will be filled.  I will fill them so that I know what is going on and I will also fill them to remember what already occurred.  Birthdays, anniversaries, special dates are placed into position and notes end up being scratched all over the sheet to help me remember little things as the month progresses.

Time is such a gift to us.  But, it is a gift in limited supply.  My calendar helps me remember that.

At this age, memories are a gift, but I forget so many things every day.  My calendar helps me remember those as well.

How do you manage your calendar?