Tuesday, May 29, 2012

It's a Good Day

After an extraordinarily warm weekend, the last couple of days have been glorious!

I caught TB out on the windowsill in the porch a little bit ago, completely transfixed by birds singing and flitting around.  Sometimes I have a lot of trouble getting him to stay in one place.  When he sees me coming, his desire to get close to me kills a lot of great photographs.  He jumps to the floor and comes to me, rubbing on my legs and feet.  As much as I love the attention, I sometimes sigh quite loudly because he's ruined a perfectly good picture.

We went to see the veterinarian last week to get his nails clipped. He was driving the dog (Leica) crazy and it was time to clip those long nails back a little bit so that at least he wasn't hurting her.  There were also going to be a lot of people here and the last thing I wanted him to do was hurt someone.  However, he zapped me hard while I was trying to pay his bill.  A couple had come in to kennel their two small dogs for the holiday weekend and all of a sudden, there were doors slamming and people moving around quickly and TB's immediate reaction is to run.  He tried scrambling out of my arms and gave me a good scratch down my chest right under my chin.  It looked like a surgical scar.

I've just learned to live with the scratches and allow people to wonder whatever they want to wonder.

Classes have started at Grand Canyon University and this is such a different learning environment than Asbury. I find that the students are a different mix.  While at Asbury, the students were predominantly United Methodist.  I had a lot in common with most of them. Many are working in a UM church around the country, have beliefs that are fairly similar to mine and lean to the left or right of me, but not too far.  There were mild disagreements on things in the classroom environment, but never too great.

GCU is a Christian based learning institution, but it draws from a much wider pool of denominational beliefs. In the United Methodist church, all elders have a degree.  Even those who aren't ordained as elders yet have at least a bachelor's degree and the students I worked with were getting their MDiv to be ordained as full elders.  That isn't the case in many other denominations.  But, the intensity of their passion at GCU is quite high.  It's going to be fascinating for me as I encounter people whose backgrounds are so very different than mine and whose goals aren't necessarily anywhere near my own and who look at things of God through quite a different lens than I do.

There probably aren't going to be a lot of Wesleyans in this mix and that's going to be odd.  Where I was quite safe in quoting Wesley at Asbury, there will be many here who might not even have any idea who he is (students, not professors. I'm already sensing a high level of academic prowess from the professors I'm encountering).

It's exciting.  THIS is why I love change.  I get to experience a wealth of personalities, people, cultures, ideas, and challenges.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Promises? Follow Through

Matthew 5:37 says, "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one."

(Sorry, but this is another rant)

This has been a rough week. I have spent a great deal of the week just plain annoyed. Why? Because I've spent this week dealing with customer service at Grand Canyon University and while much of it has been terrific, some of it has stunk and has nearly sent me over the edge with frustration.  To be honest, if it were cleared up right now, I'd have finally let it go and moved on, but since Monday morning, the same issue exists and I can't get a straight answer or resolution to the problem.

The problem itself wasn't that big of a deal - or so I thought, but every time I tried to get it fixed, I was hamstrung.  The people that I was to rely on to manage this problem for me (since I'm an online student and obviously can't get into their faces) failed me and when I pushed, got downright insulting.

When I finally got to the highest level of management and began getting more information and hopeful about solutions, I held on; but even they couldn't move the juggernaut of tech support and simply close the issue satisfactorily.

Though I can be good at it when necessary, there is nothing I hate more than finding myself in a situation where my claws have to come out and my large vocabulary (filled with condescension when needed) comes into play to destroy a person's day.

A little bit of communication and follow through would have assured me that things were in process and that I wouldn't approach the first day of class with no way to access the classroom.

This type of behavior is one of those things that just makes me nuts.  If you say you are going to do something, do it.  If you don't know whether you are going to be able to follow-through, please do not tell the world (or me) that you are going to do so.  If you promise to call me - call me.  If you promise to text me - text me.  If you promise to send me an email, or give me information, or take care of something - just do it.

I learned years ago that shallow or vacant promises end up causing mis-trust in others.  The more of them that you offer, the less people trust your word.  When I owned Insty-Prints, we had a couple of service technicians who would promise to show up in an hour, and then the next morning when I called to find out what was going on, would make yet another promise.  I would sometimes have to make two or three calls before they showed up and then they were upset because I hadn't been patient with them.  Ummm, what?  Do not tell me you are going to be here and then make me have to call you because you aren't.

I go through Facebook pages where people publish all these grand plans to do things, promise that it will be done and it never happens. Not just grand dreams, plans ... that they never follow through on.

If you promise to do something - follow through.  If you say yes, then mean it.  If you say no, then mean it.  If you can't follow through, keep your mouth shut and figure out how to manage your life.

There.  I've voiced my frustration here, but I'm afraid that GCU isn't finished hearing from me.

UPDATE Friday evening: Things are better. Not fixed, but better. Fixing will come at some point and I'll manage, but I finally had someone walk me through the entirety of the situation (communication) and tell me how I can manage this once the weekend hits.  Whew.  That's all I needed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

God's Love. Our judgment.

Yesterday, I kind of went off on the world and ranted a little bit about the poor behavior of those who think their bitter and foul postings aren't as hate-filled as they truly are.  I might have been a little angry.

In fact, as I was making up my bed and TB was helping (or not helping, as generally occurs), I thought about a few things that I had just read and honestly, I was vibrating with anger.  I didn't push him away so I could finish pulling the sheets taut, I just left him there, and walked away, over to my computer to begin writing words that had been flashing through my mind.

The first thing I had read was this:  http://boingboing.net/2012/05/22/christian-groups-oppose-anti-b.html

Christian groups in Illinois oppose anti-bullying legislation because that would make it impossible for their children to deride gays or transgenders.

If that wasn't enough, the next thing I read was this: http://michaelhalcomb.blogspot.com/2012/05/put-gays-to-death-did-he-really-say.html.

A man I respect as an intellectual decided to agree with this inflammatory pastor that if you pen all lesbians and all gays up and air lift food in for them, homosexuality would die out.  Watching that pastor's sermon incensed me and reading the commentary that agreed with the absolute ignorance of his words sent me over the edge.

Whether or not you believe in 'nature or nurture,' calling for mass imprisonment of any group to purify the world ... well ... leads to someone like Hitler.

The thing is, we continue to hate. In the past, we have approved of killing abortion doctors, we've stood by while ethnic cleansing in other countries occurs and complain when our country sends aid.

We speak and write against helping a country such as Haiti recover from a terribly destructive earthquake. I was appalled at those who wrote that we should be helping the homeless and hungry in our own country when people were donating millions of dollars and hours of their own time to help Haiti in their recovery efforts.

These are the same people who write that all who go on welfare (homeless and hungry?  maybe), should be drug tested. In other words, someone who does drugs doesn't deserve to eat or have a place to live.  Our own sins condemn us to a life lived in the mud and mire.

It's easy to send these things around, and honestly, not so easy to help at a homeless shelter, or donate food and money to a food bank or offer time to help drug addicts recover.  If everyone who complained about welfare and giving aid to those in crisis situations around the world gave a few of their hard-earned American dollars to help, most of the issues would be gone.

Whoops ... I'm beginning to rant again.

What I want to say, more than anything, is that when we set ourselves up against a group of people, we are setting ourselves against people whom God created and loves.  He doesn't love them because they can fend for themselves or because they're good people or because they're healthy or live in a wealthy part of the world.  He doesn't love them because they look and act like something we are familiar with.  He doesn't love them because they are heterosexual or manage their money well or take a shower every day.

He simply loves them because they are his children.

He makes no distinction. Neither should we.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Hate? Or Love.

I see you posting things against homosexuals and people on welfare.  Maybe it's only because it's not politically correct that you don't post against African Americans.  You don't particularly like the Mexicans and illegal immigrants. You make sure we know how much you hate these types of people getting in the way of your rights as an American.  You think that Muslims threaten your way of life and Asians should just stay on the other side of the ocean.

It wasn't that long ago in our history - within only the last fifty years, that it was common to hear words of hatred about Germans and Italians, Poles and the Irish.

My grandmother lived in Massachusetts and I was so surprised when she told me to be careful because of the dirty Irish who lived across the hall in her apartment building.  They were a nice, young couple and I had no idea that being Irish was something to be ashamed of.

The thing about hate ... I wonder when you're going to decide there's something about me or my lifestyle that you hate and soon you'll be posting nasty things about me.  Or maybe when you post these things, you don't realize that you might be attacking someone's sister or brother, their child whom they love more than life itself; maybe you are attacking my best friend or an aunt or uncle of mine.

You know ... it's easier to hate than it is to love and show mercy.

When we love someone, we expose a tender part of ourselves, we make ourselves vulnerable to the world.  But, when we hate or spew words of hate and condemnation, we close ourselves off. We separate ourselves from those who are different from us. That's a lot easier to do.

Jesus didn't call us to hate.  He called us to love.

When he was asked what the greatest commandment (of the Ten Commandments (and by the way - hating homosexuals or welfare recipients, or blacks or Jews or Mexicans or Germans or Irish, Muslims or Asians isn't in that list either) ), he said that the greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  And then he followed that up by saying that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor.

Your neighbor isn't the person who lives next to you on the street where you chose to live.  Your neighbor is everyone, whether they are gay, poor, black, Jewish, Mexican, Muslim, Asian, German or Irish.

Maybe you'll tell me that you aren't posting things out of hate - you just think that your words are the right way to live and if I don't agree, that's my problem.  The thing is - it is hate-filled.  You don't post these things because you care about those people or want to show mercy to them.  You post these things because it offends you that they live the way they do and you want the world to know that.  It's hate.

Today, if you choose to hate rather than to love, to post vile and hate-filled words on your wall; you might get a lot of 'likes' because it's easy for others to hate, too.  But, remember - when you do that, you are choosing to alienate people and instill fear in others who wonder what little thing it will take for you to hate them or say terrible things about them.  We're all pretty fallible.  The world doesn't all conform to the standards you set from your portion of the universe.

Open your heart, open your mind today.  Show a little love and compassion. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Lessons from Solitaire

We all have our game addictions.  Mine happens to be Solitaire.  Good heavens, I've played some form of Solitaire since I was in elementary school.  Mom would put a deck of cards in front of me and off I'd go.  A few of my best memories with her revolve around insane games of double Solitaire - both of us screaming at each other across the dining room table.

It's one of those games I can play mindlessly while processing on other things.  It's gotten to the point where I can recognize the beginning of a game and know immediately whether the card layout is winnable or not. That might be a sign there have been a few too many games in my history.

But, I've noticed a few things while playing Solitaire - things that seem to have a bigger import than just a simple game.

There's always another way to look at things. I get so focused on finishing out a run or getting the cards in order, I might miss the larger game.  If I step back and look at the entire picture, sometimes I see a new approach.

Choices matter. In Solitaire, I make choices about whether to pull a card from the deck or from the layout in front of me.  That affects the next cards that come up.  If I pull from the deck, I might miss cards underneath, and likewise, if I pull from the layout, I might not get the cards sorted in a way to best open up new possibilities.  If I have two cards face up that might work, I want to make the best choice, with the greatest options.  Every choice I make matters to the game.

When you're about ready to give up, sometimes a single move will help you win. I can't believe the number of times I've been ready to give up, close the game and move on to something entirely different; frustrated because I've had so many losses.  Just as I am ready to press the 'quit' button, I see a possible move.  When I make that move, everything transforms in the game and within a few more moves, I've won.

Cheating is no fun. It didn't take long for me to recognize that winning at Solitaire because I cheated was absolutely no fun - I might as well have just flipped the cards over, re-shuffled and started again. There could always be another game, another shot at winning the right way.  I realized that truth decades ago.  When you play Solitaire, it is easy to cheat.  No one knows the difference ... except you.  All of a sudden when you're cheating yourself, the fun just dwindles away.

Sometimes it is more fun to play than to chalk up wins.  I've quit looking at the overall scoring for the game.  I don't play to win, I play for fun, maybe even for an escape.  The playing of the game, figuring out the best situations so that I can continue to play without having to re-start, analyzing patterns and seeing how they all come together is what makes the game worthwhile to me.  A few wins here and there keeps me interested, but it's not the greatest goal for me.

Life is a lot like this, isn't it?

Sometimes I get so focused on things I miss the big picture.  When I step back and look again, there are so many more opportunities, so many more chances to do something extraordinary.

Choices matter. I have a friend whose father has always said that life is a series of choices and consequences.  He's right.

When I'm ready to give up, more often than not, there is another option. I just have to keep myself open to seeing those options.

Cheating at life is no fun.  You may get things done, but it's never as fulfilling.

Life isn't about winning - it's about living. When we're focused on winning, we miss all the fun of just living.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Reaching for Affection

See that little paw?  Every time I walk past him, TB reaches out a paw.  Even when he's asleep, if he senses me moving, he'll reach out a little paw towards me.  I generally reach down and grab hold of it for a second, then I rub him a little and move past to do my thing.  When I come back, the paw comes out again and we spend a few more seconds making contact.

Dad was like that.  When he was driving, he would reach out his hand to whomever might be sitting up front with him. I liked to mess with him and ignore it.  Pretty soon, he'd say, "Hold my hand."  So, I did.  I remember him sitting in a chair reading.  Whenever one of us would walk past him, he'd hold out his hand.  Sometimes he wouldn't even look up from his book, he's just put out his hand and expect us to at least touch him.

I always knew that I could count on Dad to initiate the words "I love you" in any telephone call.  If he didn't and I got to say it first, it was always a surprise to me.  One time we got off the phone without either of us saying the words and it bothered me so much, I called him back.  He made sure he always said those words.

Mom wasn't nearly as effusive with her love.  She'd grown up in a really cold and unloving environment. Her mother could love one person at a time - either she loved mom or she loved my grandfather.  It couldn't be both at the same time.  I saw video of my mother as an infant, and the woman holding her was not my grandmother, but a nurse who had been hired to come into the home.  That freaked me out.

Dad was the one who taught mom how to love. But a lifetime of conditioning had made it difficult for her to initiate love.

I always thought of her as a very loving person.  I spent a lot of time hugging her, snuggling, wrestling, holding her hand and sticking pretty close.  After she died, I discovered that my sister didn't see her the same way.  Then I realized ... I had always been the one to initiate the physical gestures of love.  When I came home from college and was freaked out at how alien the environment was, I sat on her lap in the recliner. I needed her to just hold me.  When I felt like she was getting too distant, I'd drag her into a wrestling match. When we drove together, I reached out my hand and asked her to hold it.  When she was in the hospital dying, I crawled into her bed with her, just so she could comfort me.

TB has no hesitation in reaching out for a little affection. He's my cat - I guess I raised him that way.

What about you?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

More Change For Me!

I love change. Whether or not it is always better, it is always different and I grew up adapting to and learning to enjoy the different. Dad's career as a United Methodist minister put us on the road every 5-6 years. I'd leave one group of friends behind and get to know another.  We'd move into a different home and adapt all of our belongings to that home. Just about the time we knew where all the great places were to hang out in a community, off we'd go and I'd learn new streets and stores, schools and playgrounds.

Wow.  I remember seeing my first alley.  I'd read about them in books, but when you live in little towns in Iowa, that's not really a  prevalent part of the landscape.  I was probably twelve. We'd just moved to Sigourney and I walked to the Coast to Coast store on the square.  When I walked past the alley, I looked at it and remembered stories about terrible things that happened in dark alleys.  It took a few more weeks for me to understand that nothing much was going to happen there.  (sorry, about that ... a memory came flying at me and I had to let it out!)

Anyway. Since we moved on a regular basis, I was forced to become comfortable with meeting new groups of people and entering into new experiences.  Over the years, I believe that I come to love that.

This week, I make another of those changes.  I'm leaving the program at Asbury and moving to Grand Canyon University (online).  Some of my credits will transfer, and the rest will wait until I decide whether or not a Master's of Divinity degree is something I really want.  Since so many of my fellow classmates are firmly on a path which leads to ministry and I'm not, I've begun to feel a little out of place.

The Master's of Arts in Christian Studies with an Emphasis in Leadership program at GCU is exciting! Over the last month or so, I have spoken with incredible people there as we've worked together to get things transferred and moving. The school has 30,000 students, most of them online.  They are structured to work as an online program and so far, their organization has been seamless. Ken Blanchard, a management expert (author of The One Minute Manager), has his name on their school of business.  That excites me.  His books on leadership are inspiring and motivate me to get moving.

In the fall of 2009, I took two courses online through the University of Phoenix to assure myself I could still learn in a structured situation.  In the fall of 2010, I entered seminary and discovered I could still do a kick-ass (that seems like such an unsightly phrase to use here ... oh well) job of making my way through heavy course loads.  Now, in 2012, my heart is set on finishing a program. I'll finish in just over a year (or less, if I can talk them into letting me work through the courses faster than they presently have me scheduled).

The best part will be the fact that I can focus on one class at a time and it will also give me time during the day to focus on some other things that I'm desperate to get going.

Change?  Yes. I love it.

Friday, May 18, 2012


I woke up late this morning because I didn't have anything pressing that needed to be written or read, thought about or processed.  I didn't have to think about how I would respond to classmates who posted thoughts that sometimes provoked me to fury or those whose comments were so nonsensical I couldn't make a reasonable response. The only thing I thought about this morning was how wonderful the breeze felt, how snuggly my cat was and how, not only today, but the next few days were mine, only mine.

When I open the Bible, there will be no one examining my thoughts. I won't have to write for a professor; I will write for myself.  I will no longer feel guilty about reading my Kindle for pleasure and can archive the textbooks that I had in there.

One of the things I learned about John Wesley this semester was that he didn't develop a system of theology as much as he lived out his theology.  For him, it was a practical matter, even though we've managed to systemize what he believed and taught.  Studying the development, current research and understanding of theology has nearly made me insane this semester. Until I took that class (Method and Praxis of Theology), I didn't realize how much I hate how we impose a construct onto our belief system.  I hate reading about it, I hate that is the way many people look at it.  I hate it.  I'm glad to be done with that class, and I'm glad that there are others who don't hate it like I do.

This semester I spent a lot of time immersed in the Minor Prophets (the last twelve books of the Old Testament) for my Inductive Bible study course. I remember a time when I had no idea what was in these books. I enjoyed this course, even though I spent more hours on it than any other.  Digging into those books and uncovering their relationship with each other and with the rest of the Bible was exciting for me.

Before I began this semester, I was a Wesleyan.  After taking the course on John Wesley's Theology, I consider myself more of a Wesleyan than ever before.  Understanding and learning about that man's work ignited a passion for his teaching, his sermons, his love of people that I've never had before. I am proud that I learned about God while growing up as a United Methodist.

This was one of the most intense semesters I've taken. There was no time to think about anything other than the coursework set before me.  The amount of reading I managed, the writing that was required, the exams that occurred, overwhelmed my mind to the point that I had no words of my own to share.  I ceased writing my Pour Out a Blessing blog, wrote only short snippets in emails, and did no journaling. Words drained out of me at an alarming rate, but I didn't get to share them.

The good news is that all it took was one night's sleep and a feeling of freedom to get things back on track.  During the semester, I managed to grab a few snips of ideas as they careened in and out of my mind.  I discovered that I had captured quite a few ideas for blog posts and other bits of writing.  I can hardly wait to get those fleshed out and into the open.

Oh ... and there's one more thing that I'm changing.  But, I'll tell you about that tomorrow.

Maybe I'll swing in the meadow today.