December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas

Last year, we didn't send out cards except maybe to family and there was no Christmas letter.  The year before that I was crazily trying to get as many cards out as possible.  The business of our lives with activities is the culprit.  This year, I am posting the Christmas letter to my blog and sharing it on Facebook and Google+ for those of you not on Facebook.  For those few relatives who either refuse to use computers or are unable, I will send the Christmas letter with their card.

Easter 2014

December 4, 2014

Getting off the Gerbil Wheel

I wrote a while back about having a bit of a breakdown, that made me realize that I was trying to do it all, and I might add, do it all perfectly.  The purpose of the breakdown was to show me how wrong I was, not just about my abilities, but also my desire to even try.  In some ways, it is a message our society sends to us, making us think that we are not doing enough when we are doing more than we should.  Pinterest and all those other "helpful" articles about how to "do things better" only fuel the inner perfectionist, which should be killed quickly and decisively whenever it resurrects.  So the good news is that I have uncovered yet another disguise of perfectionism and through Christ, my battle against it is being won.

Our family has been working hard to get off the gerbil wheel of activities.  Kyle's baseball season is over and we are taking a break from official games, which means one less thing to do Wednesdays and on weekends.  Jessi's First LEGO League tournament is over and we have our Monday and Thursday afternoons back.  Elizabeth's aerial's performance is next week, which will involve three days and that activity won't be renewed, mainly because we will in the near future be dealing with the extra costs of her having a driving permit.  John is the only one who still has two activities, Cub Scouts and Tae Kwon Do, but both of those at this point are only one day each.  The gerbil wheel of activties is being dismantled.  We are seeing positive affects on our family, which is even better news.

In the past three weeks, however, I have discovered another type of gerbil wheel as I have had to deal with increasing interpersonal conflict in one of the kids' activities and that is a gerbil wheel of the thoughts.  As a person seemed to become increasingly hostile, God gave me several orders, each of which were difficult and could only be done by the Holy Spirit changing my pride-filled, natural self:

  1. Philippians 4:8--Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever, is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, focus on those things. 
  2. Ephesians 4:31-32--Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander and every form of malice.  Instead, be kind and compassionate, forgiving each other just as in Christ Jesus, God forgave you.
The gerbil wheel of the mind is the bad stuff listed in the Ephesians passage as well as the critical attitude that goes against Philippians 4:8.  When we are in tough situations, it is so easy to fall into griping and anger and bitterness and to view ourselves as the "innocent victim" rather than the co-collaborator.  In this situation, I know that I was definitely a co-collaborator.  I also know that at the beginning of the conflict, I made every attempt to make peace by acknowledging what I knew at the time to be my sins, asking forgiveness and and asking the person to bring up any other offensive conduct on my part so that I could work on my conduct.  And yet it the conflict became worse.  The person stopped talking to me.  So I clung to these two verses and whenever the gerbil wheel invited me to get on, I made a Philippians 4:8 list of the person's good qualities and I forgave the person for any offenses against me.  The immediate affect was that whenever I actually did that, I felt peace regarding the situation, because I knew God was working in it and He was helping me.  He also transformed my mind so that I was able to feel kindness and compassion for the other person, rather than letting bitterness set in.  And this was really important because there came a time when we were generally avoiding each other because the situation was becoming too hard. However, we both knew the day was coming in which we would have to face each other.  And once again, when that day came, God helped me by waking me up with a vision of the humor in the situation--it really probably reads like a bad "womance*" novel if I went into all the detail.  I could laugh at myself and at the absurdity of it, which is just the first victory.  And because He had been training me, when we did end up looking each other in the eye, I was able to offer a compliment--one of the many "excellent and praiseworthy" things upon which I dwelt--as a peace offering.  I saw the person relax and we were able to talk again peaceably.  So the Prince of Peace worked his "magic" on two stubborn people through His word.   What a great Christmas present!  And as a result, we will be getting together to evaluate what went wrong so that we can both learn from the experience and so that our friendship can grow.  

Not to us, Lord, not to us
    but to your name be the glory,
    because of your love and faithfulness.
Psalm 115:1

* if guys can have a "bromance", women should be able to have a "womance".  And the plot of all bad romance novels is that the boy and girl meet  and like each other but some misunderstanding threatens their relationship because they refuse to talk to each other about the situation until the very end, when all details are wrapped up nicely and they live happily ever after.  I hate bad romance novels.  And this situation, even though good came of it, had some negative consequences, both for the adults and for the kids involved in the activity that only God can redeem.

October 4, 2014

Review of "Run Wild. Live Free Love Strong" by For King and Country

For the last few months, "Fix My Eyes" by For King and Country has been playing on Air1, whetting my appetite for the rest of their album.  The combination of great rhythm and encouraging lyrics create a great get-you-out-of-bed song.  And on the album, they include a drum prelude to "Fix My Eyes" that makes a great song even better.  I "got" the album for my birthday, as a pre-order, but had to wait for a couple of months to truly have the music.  I am not disappointed.  The songs on the album are meant to encourage people going through rough times, though they aren't treacly platitudes wrapped up in soothing maranatha chords.  The words are no-nonsense:

  • "It takes a soldier who knows his orders to walk the walk I'm supposed to walk" (Fix My Eyes)
  • "Beat up but won't be broken; lonesome but always searching; homesick but nobody's heading home soon." (To the Dreamers)
  • "What do you do when you don't get better?  Strong arms, get too, get too weak to hold on..." (Without you, featuring Courtney)

The music is complicated, with rhythms created by so many different instruments, including vocals.  They tend to have the music counterpoint the hardness and despair in the lyrics, both through the rhythms and including bits of chimes/xylophone and other sweeter instruments to lead us to the place where God is there to comfort and heal us, a little bit at  a time.  

But the album is not only about hard places.  "To the Dreamers", "Fix My Eyes" and "This is Love" are anthems for living out the life God has given us and loving the people He has brought into our lives as the album's title envisions.  

The one song on the album that has been speaking to me most, however, is called, "Matter", mainly because of the words.  I started by making a slideshow on Google.  When my husband saw it, he liked it enough to encourage me to make a lyrics video.  I used Windows MovieMaker to create the video.

The video is dedicated to anyone who has experienced tremendous loss, anyone who is struggling to find hope in hopeless situations, to anyone who thinks that God has forgotten them and for those who think that He cannot love them because of what they have done. 
 {Hugs} to you all.


September 17, 2014

Breakdown of a "Supermom"

There is so much that I want to do.  There is only one problem.  Actually there are several problems.  I have limited time.  I have limited energy.  I have limited resources.  The warp drive and transporter beam that would allow us to get to places instantaneously still have not been invented.  I can't be in two places at once.

Kevin Lehman has a book entitled It's Your Kid, Not a Gerbil."  I haven't read it, but I have heard him referenced at various times and it touches on the question of how busy should we make our kids.  Of course, unless you only have one child, busy kids mean even busier parents.   We have four kids, each involved in one or two activities.  Of course, some of those activities require multiple days.  And I can justify each activity in which they participate. And generally, each individual kid does get down time, though Eric and I don't as much because we are coordinating our schedules to make sure our kids get to their activities on time.  If our kids are gerbils, then we are hummingbirds.

Every year, in addition to homeschooling, taking care of the house and kids, attending church and church events and trying to get the kids to their appointed activities on time, I have tried to do something "for myself."  Every year, I try something that doesn't seem like it would take that much time.  Every year, I get totally slammed and stressed out.  As our schedule has continually become stretched to the breaking point at times, something inside has been telling me that the things which Eric and I are putting our attention are meaningless and possibly destructive to our family. However, up until now,  I have had a hard time really putting these feelings into words because I haven't been able to pinpoint the root or even if what I have been thinking/feeling is right.  I have tried to fix things, I have tried to change the way I handle the situations, I have tried everything I know to make the situations better.  But there is only so much I can do.  I have tried talking to my husband about it, but if I can't put it into words, how can I expect him to understand me?

Up until a few weeks ago, I felt trapped in a gerbil wheel of my own making, but there didn't seem to be an exit.  I felt empty, like all I had to give had been spent and I had been burning through reserves for the last two years.  God is my helper and my source of strength, but I don't think that when He had Paul write, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13) He meant, "Over-commit your time and energy and use what I give you to barely get through it."  I started to break down and I could see in my kid's behavior that something was wrong with them, too.

I know that within five years, two of my kids will be off to college and life might get simpler for us, but do I really want the last few years of my life to be so busy doing that I miss out on being with my kids and enjoying them?  Do I want to tell my kids through my decisions and my actions that our value comes in doing and not in being with people?  No!  Definitely no!  Positively no!  As I went through a really bad couple of weeks, I realized that I could do one of two things.  I could keep MacGuyvering my life with emotional duct tape, chewing gum and hair pins or I could allow myself to break down, let the pieces fall into God's hands and let Him fix the brokenness I had created.

“Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves;
    therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.
18 For he wounds, but he binds up;
    he shatters, but his hands heal.
Job 5:17-18

Good News!  God finally gave me the words and had been speaking to Eric so that when I finally was able to speak them, he listened.

August 16, 2014

Tandemingtroll's Guide to Choosing a Candidate--The 2015 guide

It is now summer of 2015 and since the candidates for president of the United States are starting to campaign, I thought I would update this list.  A situation in the news this week has made me realize that my list is incomplete, because apparently, common sense is being replaced with posturing and pride.

When it comes to candidates, to limit how much research to do to pick qualified candidates, I look first at their campaign strategy to see if I can eliminate anyone.  This is my criterion for elimination:
  1. Does the candidate pick a certain group as the source of our nation's problems as the focus of their campaign?  The group can be the opposite political party or a group based ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation.  If the candidate is targeting a particular group of people you shouldn't vote for them for several reasons.  First of all, if they start blame-shifting as part of their campaign, what is the likelihood that they will accept responsibility while they are in office?  And if they don't accept responsibility, then they emotional children in the guise of adults and we don't want children running our country, state or city. And if they are targeting one particular group, they are oversimplifying the situation, which means they are incapable of critical thinking and problem solving skills.  Furthermore, if they target one group, what will keep them from targeting your group in the future?  After all, fifteen to twenty years ago,  we were told how horrible coconut oil was for our health and how the evil movie theaters were secretly trying to kill us by cooking popcorn in coconut oil because it was addictively delicious. And now what are all the health experts saying about coconut oil?  Soviets were the evil empire during the Cold War, then they were okay during Glastnost and now they are working themselves into the evil empire again. 
  2. Does the candidate spend all of their marketing money attacking their opponent rather than offering solutions?  If all they can do is tear down and attack, they will have a difficult time working with other people because they cannot be trusted.  Also, my experience is that most of the attack ads misrepresent the candidate's position or an incumbent's voting record, which makes them liars, which means we can't trust them, which means we shouldn't vote for them.
  3. Does the candidate employ tactics designed to play upon your fears and worries?  Don't vote for that person because they are snake oil salesmen and snake oil salesmen are liars.
  4. Have they been in office more than twelve years?  Politics shouldn't be a career path.  It should be a temporary detour to serve your country and should possibly include a vow of poverty.  People who have been in office more than twelve years should step aside and let other people step up and serve, getting income from the private sector, not the public's tax money.   Besides, the longer people stay in office the more used to power they get and we don't need people making laws to serve their own need for power and control.
  5. Are they making promises that sounds too good to be true?  Are they spouting off catchphrases and twitterfodder that is devoid of meaning?  Are they responding to a situation in a knee jerk reaction?  Then don't vote for them because they are either making promises they don't intend to keep in order to look good, which makes them liars or they don't have a firm grip on reality, which makes them unstable.  I think we can agree that neither are good attributes for lawmakers. 
  6. Does the candidate throw a temper tantrum when criticized for what he or she says and requires retribution equivalent to an arm for an eye when embroiled in conflict of his or her making?  Do we really want someone who acts either like a toddler or bully to have control of our nuclear codes or being the head of our protocol department?  It makes me sad that I even have to write this.  
At this point, you hopefully have at least one or two candidates whom you can research.  If these five qualifiers eliminate all candidates, then maybe remove one (or, if necessary, two) of the five disqualifiers that are least offensive see which candidate is available.  Realize that no one candidate is going to be a perfect fit and they are most likely to make mistakes while in office.  Give them the same grace you want other people to give to you. And please vote in your state's primaries, even if you feel that your candidate doesn't have a chance because not voting becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. 

Happy Voting!(?)

July 25, 2014

Tales from a Tsaddaqim Wannabe

A few months ago, I was reading the book by Amy Sherman that encourages Christians to be the tsaddaqim in their communities.  I wrote about it here.  After one reading session, as I was praying, I felt God calling me to pray for the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.  I wasn't sure why, other than the fact that Jesus calls us to pray for our enemies.  So I prayed that those who were truly innocent would be released and that those who were imprisoned would experience God as their Savior even as they lived behind bars.  Then it occurred to me that some of these men had spent over ten years in prison and I started wondering why they were still in prison rather than going through the trial process that each of us would go through if we committed a crime (I can be quite dense at times).  It turns out, that the US has set up Guantanamo Naval Station and some other territories as land that we control that is not covered by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  That started me on another reading project, Guantanamo, An American History by Jonathon M. Hansen

Here are some interesting facts from the book:
  • Guantanamo Bay and Cuba were always considered key property for the US because it allowed us to control the Gulf Coast and Carribean.  It goes back to President Jefferson, though even some English leaders during colonial times saw it as an advantageous port.
  • The colonists became angry that Parliament and King George thought that we were unfit to rule ourselves and yet, around 100 years after that, we made the same presumption when Cuba finally started the process of throwing off its colonial parent, Spain.
  • The idea that Guantanamo Bay naval station could be outside the laws of the Constitution was initially presented during the Haitian Boat people refugees crisis in Carter's administration.  Yes, a Democrat, made that decision.  That idea was initially fought by the people who were trying to help the Haitians gain citizenship but was ultimately defeated.  Former Presidents Reagan (R), H.W. Bush (R), and Clinton (D) all supported and promoted the extra-legal status, but G.W. Bush (R) was the first one to take FULL advantage of it after 9/11 as a place to hold suspected terrorists without the need for silly things like trials.
  • In the 2004 Supreme Court agreed that U.S. citizens being held in Guantanamo could pursue their rights, at least the right of habeus corpus and that foreign nationals could be tried in U.S. Courts, rather than only in military tribunals.
The fact seems particularly ironic, that our government, regardless of which political party is in power, has our service men and women who are sworn to protect a Constitutional government and the fundamental freedoms spelled out in the Bill of Rights are denying other people those rights.  In fact, in 2013, President Obama declared that 46 prisoners would remain in Guantanamo indefinitely without a hope for trial.  Though five of those were probably released earlier this year.

Sure, most of these men are not U.S. citizens and sure, they may or may not have ties to Al Qaeda, which would make them enemies of the U.S. I am not in favor of just releasing them.  But I do believe that they deserve to have the same legal rights and privileges of U.S. citizens for several reasons:
  1. The best way to promote a Constitutional type of government is to be liberal in guarding the freedoms of ALL people, whether we agree with them or not or whether or not they are citizens residing in the United States.  Any nation can remove liberty.  It takes an especially strong nation to preserve it at all costs.
  2. Ben Franklin said that "Those who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."  I would add that those who are willing to deny essential liberty to others to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
  3. It is the height of  hubris to believe that what happens to others cannot happen to us.  If the President, can change the rules without going through Congress to change the laws as the Constitution states, then we, the people will be subject to the whim of every President, which means that someday, maybe foreign nationals will be detained without due process because of some new rule created by the new President.  That, by the way, is tyranny.  And once we give tyranny a foothold, at some point in time, we will become victims of it.
  4. This last reason is most important for me as a Christian:  God hates injustice because justice is part of His character.  Micah 6:8 says this:  
"He has told you, O man, what is good;

    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness (or mercy)
    and to walk humbly with your God?

So for the time being, I will continue to pray for the detainees at Guantanamo, that God's justice will prevail, that Jesus Christ will be their protector and that they will have their day in court.

June 20, 2014

Book Review: _Cinderella's Dress_ by Shonna Slayton

Now that school is over for the year, I have been reading more books to follow my own interest.  I was asked by a homeschooling mom to read her book before it was published through NetGallery.  It did involve getting registered with NetGallery and now involves getting emails from them with other books to read.  Booklover's paradise.  I published my review on Amazon this morning.  I am not one of those people who likes to reveal too much of the story, especially one that is well written and has elements of mystery to it as this story does.  It basically starts with the premise that Cinderella was a Polish woman who became queen after wearing a magical dress to the ball and capturing the Prince's heart.  When she is queen, she gives a loyal family of servants the privilege of being keepers of the dress when her kingdom comes under attack from the step-sisters and their husbands.  The protagonist, Kate, is in this line.  My official Amazon review is below:

I was asked to review it by Netgallery and, like other reviewers, the concept of continuing the Cinderella story through the dress caught my interest. I have to give this five stars because the story completely drew me in and I couldn't put it down.

Kate is the main protagonist whose mother wants her to become America's version of royalty, which is a Hollywood star.  Kate has different ambitions, wanting to crack the male-dominated world of department store window dressing.  And her talents seem to definitely align with her dreams.  One day, her great-aunt and great-uncle from Poland arrived unannounced at their doorstep with a big trunk.  And soon, Kate's great-aunt reveals that her family comes from a long line of caretakers of Cinderella's ball gown and wedding dress.  But is her aunt's story as fictional as the fairy tale of Cinderella seems to be?  

The author manages to weave several themes together as beautifully as Kate's great aunt tats lace, with the setting of the story in WWII.  And I love the fact that the story begins with the fairy tale, but the romance in this storyline is decidedly un-fairy tale.  What kept my attention was how she draws the characters out, little by little and how well she generally manages a lot of characters and several side stories.  Many books written for teens these days use chapter-ending cliff-hangers to keep you reading, but this book only uses that device for the actual climax.  Instead, she uses the mystery of the dress, of Kate's family background and of Kate's character development to hold our attention.

There is one development involving Kate and her aunt that is a bit jarring because it seems to come out of nowhere and a couple of minor story arcs could probably have been eliminated.  However, the strength of the story overcomes these slight problems.

I would highly recommend it for teens and tweens, but I believe that adults would thoroughly enjoy the book also.

This was a total joy to read.  This book is available on Kindle, though we are planning to buy a non-electronic version and get the author's signature.

May 31, 2014

Letting Go

Over the course of the year, as my oldest has developed a better sense of what she wants to do when she grows up, which may involve living far, far away from home, I have been getting a sense that my homeschooling journey will not be taking her all the way through high school.   It is time to release her and test her wings while she is still has the safety net of home, with family and other mentors to help her as she learns to fly.  So we started checking out different schools.  And the one we have really liked is New School for the Arts and Academics, a charter school.  It is a smaller school, which Elizabeth prefers to the big regular high school.  And the English teacher only gives essays on tests, which is what I like.  And most importantly, she will be taking classes in all kinds of art, including ceramics and some art-based computer programs.  Because the school is so small, they have a rigorous application process, asking for two letters of recommendation and requiring the student to write an essay, which is also preparing her for college admissions in a few years (gulp).  Below is her essay to get her into school, which was edited by a friend.

The Influence of the Arts On My Life
By Elizabeth Overtoom

Art has been an essential part of my entire life experience. As I have matured, I have progressed from basic stick figures to more complex drawings that come with increasing skill. When I am listening to a sermon or a lecture for school, I often doodle to help me focus. I also use drawing to pass the time as I listen to audiobooks or music. I find those outside factors influence the way I draw and my artistic abilities. When I am having trouble thinking of an answer to a question, drawing helps me focus on the solution I am searching for. I have always loved to draw, and I would not be the person I am today without art.

From the time I was five, I have had four different art teachers. My first art teacher, Teri Rueckert, taught me pottery and introduced me to mixed mediums, such as using vibrant colors from chalk and the graceful beauty of oil pastels to create a work of art. Ms. Rueckert made her lessons entertaining and instructive, and set the cornerstone for my love of the arts. Russell Taylor taught me oil painting. He made the lessons amusing. Many of my lessons ended with us getting covered paint, mostly from projects that involved me splattering paint on cardboard. He showed me the power of the random, and also showed how to not follow the picture I was painting down to the exact detail, but instead put in the elements I thought would fit with the overall tone of the picture. Carol Brown, is currently teaching me watercolor painting. One of the special talents she includes in her instruction is incorporating lessons about the masters into her teaching. My other current art teacher, Sherri Redman, is teaching me how to sketch.

These early experiences brought together a love and passion in storytelling. I see fundamentals of art and language in movies and literature. Through my lessons, I have come to notice the artistic details and elements in movies. I am fascinated with the processes of coming up with how elements in the story should look, and with the artwork displayed in the finished films. It has inspired me to pursue a career in the line of cinematic arts.

I have researched cinematic arts through watching and reading about the artists who think up the marvelous movie sets and the look of the characters for films such as The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I am mainly interested in Alan Lee and John Howe, who are both famous book illustrators, and movie conceptual designers. They are well known for their artistic interpretations of J. R. R. Tolkien's works. I love learning about their techniques and how they thought up the ideas for their beautiful paintings and sketches. I also enjoy reading up on how the ideas for the CGI scenes and how the movie sets were designed, as well as seeing the different ideas for the characters' appearance. I am fascinated with the processes and the artwork displayed in their work.

I believe art has helped me progress as a scholar. Knowing and understanding art has trained me to explore history and literature in detail, just like, as an artist, I need to see the specific parts of an object to draw it properly. For example, while studying the middle ages, I could appreciate the affect on the Eastern European culture and had a better appreciation for the architectural intricacies found in some of the early orthodox churches. Art has improved my ability to focus and taught me to persevere. I have become more disciplined as I have repeatedly practiced techniques. I see the parallel of this kind of exercise transitioning into my studies: I need to repeat a math concept to understand it completely. Therefore, art has helped me progress as a scholar.

As a natural compliment to visual art, storytelling- especially creative writing- is my new present interest. I love reading, and over the past school year I have been studying a more in-depth view of the classics, such as John Milton's Paradise Lost and Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. I enjoy learning abut the different literary techniques and how authors use them to create their masterpieces. Someday I hope to be one of those authors.

I am excited to go to the New School for the Arts and Academics for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, I wish to advance my artistic talents further, by being taught by some excellent artists, as well as learning more and different methods of art. Coming from a home schooled environment, I loved the look of the hands-on classes. They are unlike anything I have experienced before. I believe coming to this school will be beneficial artistically and academically, giving me a strong foundation for my career. The New School for the Arts and Academics will challenge me, and I recognize it will require more concentration and dedication than a normal public school offers. It will push me to work harder for good grades. As a home schooled student, I am in my house for most of the day. I only interact with the people in the co-ops I attend and in my extracurricular activities. Overall, I believe going to this school will be a wonderful event in my life, and will help me when I graduate and go to college. It will also allow me to meet new people, make new friends, and generally have new experiences and opportunities I would not have otherwise experienced.  

May 1, 2014

I want to be a Tsaddaqim

As part of my church discipleship program, I am reading Amy Sherman's book called Kingdom Calling:  Vocational  Stewardship for the Common Good.  It has been so convicting to me, as have all the books I have had to read as part of this program.  Tsaddaqim is Hebrew translated as "the righteous."  The book takes Proverbs 11:10 and explores it in depth:

"When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices;
    when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy."

Why should a city rejoice when the  tsaddaqim prosper?  Because the tsaddaqim, because of their righteousness, share their blessings in every aspect of their lives and work towards justice and peace to bless their community and their world.  It is not just about bringing God's love into the world, but also His justice, and His peace--all aspects of his kingdom, in little bits and pieces.  

This is one of the books that has inspired my church to join other churches in calling its congregation to B.L.E.S.S. God, family and our community--Bless, Listen, Eat with, Speak and Sabbath/Celebrate.

I haven't even completed the book and feel so totally un-tsaddaqim.  But I know the first step I can make:  get out from behind my computer.   Blogging so far hasn't taken up as much time as Facebook and certain computer games.  How can I bless others as a tsaddaqim when I am tethered and distracted?  I am not even living out my goal of being fully present for my family and kids.

The next step?  Pray and ask God to give me the One place where He wants me to serve the community.  This will be very challenging because my kids' activities seem to take a lot out of me and have both my husband and I running around town like bees.  But I know that whatever God has planned for me and my family, He will give us what we need as long as we keep our eyes fixed on Him.

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."  Matthew 6:33

April 20, 2014

Happy Easter 2014

This season of Lent, the kids and I did a study of all the "I am" statements that Jesus made in the book of John.  Here they are:
  • I am the source of living water:  John 4:1-14, 7:37-39
  • I am the Messiah:  John 4:15-26
  • I am the Bread of Life:  John 6: 25 - 40
  • I am the Bread from Heaven:  John 6:41-59
  • I am the Light of the World:  John 8:12-18, 9:1-5
  • I am YHWH:  John 8:52-58 with references to Exodus 3:14
  • I am the Gate for the Sheep:  John 10:1-10
  • I am the Good Shepherd who lays his life down for his sheep:  John 10:11-18
  • I have authority to lay down my life for my sheep and take it up again:  John 10:11-18
  • I am one with God the Father:  John 10: 25-30,  14:8-14
  • I am the Resurrection and the Life:  john 11:12-27
  • I am the way, the truth, the life; No one gets to God the Father, except through me:  John 14:1-7
I have always thought that John wrote with a sense of humor.  In the past, I have laughed through Jesus' "Whose Your Daddy" argument with the Pharisees in John 8.  This year, my funny bone was struck in John 9.  His disciples raise a theological argument when they see a man  born blind begging in the streets (which of course, is EXACTLY what Jesus wants us to do--NOT).  They ask Jesus if he is blind because of his sins or his parents.  Jesus tells them there is another option:  a chance to see the glory of God at work.  Then he hocks a goober, makes mud with it, and smears the man's eyes with it.  Not exactly what we think of when we hear the words "The Glory of God."  And yet, the man was able to see once he washed the mud out of his eyes.  The story has both a happy and sad ending.  The sad ending is that there were people who saw this miracle, the first unique miracle that Jesus had performed, restoring a genetic defect, and still didn't believe.  They condemned Jesus for breaking their Sabbath rules (not God's) and plotted his death, thinking that God wouldn't save him because Jesus was a sinner.  When they saw Jesus hanging on the cross, thought that God's judgment against him was complete.  Proof that we will believe what we choose to believe, even with evidence for God's existence, His grace, love and mercy staring us in the face.  We see the light, but prefer darkness and blindness to really seeing and really living. But the Good News is that God's Judgement, which WAS placed on Jesus at the cross on our behalf, was replace by grace and mercy when Jesus rose again from the dead, proving once and for all that all the claims he made before the cross were true.  And Jesus still offers grace and mercy to the blind and real life to those who are the living dead.  My prayer is that today, they would see and live.

Christ is Risen!  He is risen indeed!

April 3, 2014

A different perspective of "Noah"

My husband and I went against advice from many Christians and saw "Noah" at the theaters last weekend with some other friends.  Now, whenever Hollywood adapts a book, you know that it is going to be somewhat messed up.  As great a job as Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens did in adapting "The Lord of the Rings" Trilogy, there were several changes that they made that I really didn't like at all and for that reason, I don't like the second movie as much.  I also do not like what they are doing with the unnecessary love triangle in "The Hobbit" series, nor do I think that it needed to be three movies.  There are worse adaptations.  My daughter shudders and begins ranting whenever we mention the movie "Earagon" because the movie was such a hatchet job of the book.

And with the Bible having very various levels of detail in its accounts of history and some of its history sounding a bit implausible, it is ripe for speculation and modification.  Let's face it, very few movies based on the Bible include all aspects of the Bible story or make changes.  For instance, "The Prince of Egypt", hailed by the Christian community in general, has a young, handsome Moses, rather than an eighty year old man who probably had already had kids and raised them.   Therefore, I did not have high expectations of a story that matched the Bible.  I will try not to include spoilers in case you want to be surprised.

"Noah" stars Inspector Javert ("Les Mis"), I mean Russell Crowe playing Inspector Javert as Noah, a man who is totally obsessed with God's judgment and justice and totally blind to God's love and mercy. His wife is played by Alicia Nash ("A Beautiful Mind"), I mean Jennifer Connely playing Alicia Nash as Naameh, who has to hold the family together and still manage to love her husband as he moves from grim determination to grim reaper wannabe.  Earnest, smart and resourceful Hermione Granger ("Harry Potter") makes an appearance as Shem's matrimonial prospect and Percy Jackson ("Percy Jackson" series) plays the middle brother, Ham, who still has daddy issues and a chip on his shoulder that causes him to be sullen and resentful through most of the movie, though in this case, he actually might have a good reason to be.  There are other bit characters who don't do much, except, of course,  for the bad guy.  The movie is okay until the rain appears because there is hope and a wee bit of humor provided by Odin ("Thor"), I mean Methuselah.  Once the rains come and Methuselah dies however, the story grows unrelentingly grim as Noah abandons all hope for mankind and a snake enters the garden. Oh wait, that is flashback played multiple times throughout the movie, along with Cain killing Abel.

Artistically, the movie has beautiful cinematography.  I give kudos to Matthew Libatique, cinematographer, and ILM for the visual excellence.  The desolation of the land shows the utter desolation of man's spirit as he pursues his own selfish pleasures.  The sky is amazing.  Once scene reminded me of Jesus' promise that streams of living water flow from him.  And there are other visual treats.  The flood scene is spectacular and very similar to what I have imagined from the Biblical account.  The dialogue and characters, however are pretty flat, like out of a mediocre action movie. And the word grim seems to be the only appropriate description of the tone and message of the movie.

What the movie gets right:
- The evil people don't want to follow God.  They want to do whatever they want to whoever they want and use the world created by God for their own selfish pleasure as Romans 1:20-21 states.  It is only when their doom is impending that one of them asks God why He doesn't speak to him.
- God created everything*. He created it good, including Adam and Eve. (Genesis 1-2)
- Adam and Eve, encouraged by the snake sinned against God and soon after saw their son Cain kill their son Abel. (Genesis 3-4)
- The basic elements of the flood--Noah following God, God telling him to build an ark for his family and the animals as outlined in Genesis 6 &7 are followed with two major exceptions  which I won't divulge to avoid a spoiler.  In both cases the variation is a plot device to be consistent with the director's version and/or to get an idea across through repetition.
- God is powerful enough to throw down angels to earth and cause a forest to grow from desolate surroundings.  He creates beauty.  (Verses about God's power are too numerous to mention)
-  The earth was flooded, not just from 40 days of rain but from water bursting from the ground.(Genesis 7:11-12).
- God provides everything they need to carry out his instructions. (Many Bible verses again proclaim God's provision)
- Nephilim are mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 6:4
(* In the creation account told by Noah in the movie, the montage of images shows animals evolving, though God is credited with creating them)

Speculation with the purpose to advance the story or highlight some idea:
-  Noah and his family are vegetarian, flower children.  Considering that in Genesis 1:29, God only gives them permission to eat plants and in Genesis 9:3, He explicitly gives Noah and his family permission to eat food, this isn't purely a tree-hugger piece of propaganda.  Furthermore, even today, some Christians see the Genesis 1:28 verse as a mandate to be good stewards and caretakers of the planet rather than masters using it for our purposes.  This movie contrasts Noah's view with the bad guy's carnivorous eating habits, which some have deemed to be environmentalist propaganda. 
- Noah misunderstands God's purpose and focuses on the judgment of God, forgetting about His mercy and love.  This is actually a pretty well documented human condition (Jonah, Saul, the Pharisees, Peter, Paul, not to mention current leaders).   Heck, I have experienced the tap or whack of God's heavenly 2x4 correcting my vision of Him or the job He has given me to do on multiple occasions.  However, the director stretches this concept to almost the breaking point.
-  Noah received help from the Nephilim.  This is pure speculation.  The Bible doesn't specifically mention any help from outside sources, but then again, there is very little information about how it was built, including a specific timeline of how long it took.
- Tubal-Cain is the bad guy.  This could be possible because everyone lived a long time in Noah's day and the Bible doesn't scrupulously record timelines for Cain's progeny as it does for Seth's line.  What I did discover when I did a timeline with the kids several years ago is that Noah's great-grandfather probably had seen Adam alive.

Things that are outright wrong:
- There are two other big changes to the story as I have mentioned previously but I don't want to reveal them and spoil it for anyone planning to see the movie.  They are obvious to anyone who knows the Biblical account of the flood.  The only problems I have with one of them is that it might make God seem either remote or unable to accomplish His will.
-  The Nephilim are changed from the giant offspring of female humans and "Sons of God" (whatever they are) to angels that God kicked out of heaven for helping Adam and Eve after they sinned.  To me, this is a grievous change because it portrays God as vindictive and merciless, even though God shows His mercy in the Bible by clothing Adam and Eve and he even lets Cain live after killing Abel and offers to protect him.  Once again,  I have no problem with Nephilim as rock monsters and helpers of Noah, only as symbols of God's lack of mercy.
-  God is portrayed as solely a God of judgment and not of mercy.  Noah cannot see God's mercy extended to human through the ark.  And it is Tubal-Cain, the bad guy, that expresses the idea that man is made in the image of God, not the man who follows God.  Even when Noah shows love and mercy, he does not attribute it to God.  And this is where I do feel that God's name is trampled and blasphemed.

Considering that the writer/director is an atheist using Jewish mystical books and considers this a myth subject to artistic license, the fact that "Noah" gets anything right should be considered an act of God.  This is certainly not the worst adaptation of the story of God's great flood.  That honor goes to a TV miniseries called "Noah's Ark" and starred Jon Voigt as Noah, who was placed as a contemporary of Lot and Sodom/Gomorrah and in which God finished the ark for Noah because he became impatient (as IF).  My husband I turned it off after half an hour because we couldn't stomach it.  Maybe the awfulness of "Noah's Ark" has, in comparison, made this version seem less offensive.  My husband and I were, after all able to sit through the whole movie rather than walking out of it.  I confess that maybe I am working too hard to see God's word in this movie.  It definitely caused me to re-read the Genesis account of the flood, which is always a good thing.  I can see why Christians get upset by the movie and why they might not want to line the pockets of the "godless Hollywood blasphemers."  If you don't want to give money to the writer/director, then wait for it to be on Neflix or whatever movie service you use.  But I would encourage Christians to see the movie themselves and form their own opinion of the movie rather than parrot their pastors or friends or Christian critics or even reviewers like me.  And as Christians, we should be highlighting the story of the  flood and mercy shown by the ark providing salvation to some as a foreshadowing of the story of the cross and how God managed to merge His judgment with His mercy to save His beloved children by faith in Jesus Christ.

"On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”"  Matthew 9:12-13

"Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment"  James 2:12-13

March 11, 2014

My Husband vs. Superheros

My husband, daughter and I just finished watching "Thor:  The Dark World" last night.  In the afternoon, I had had oral surgery to install a dental implant.  It turns out that baby teeth start re-absorbing their roots when you get older.  I was supposed to have the surgery at the end of March, but the poor little tooth wouldn't hold out that long and it was starting to constantly ache.  Thanks go to God for creating an opening for me yesterday.  That night, with Novocaine and high doses of Advil keeping the pain at bay, I decided to watch the movie, hopping it would be better than the first one.  I was disappointed by the first "Thor" movie because the plot was a little dicey, my expectations were pretty high because it was directed by Kenneth Branaugh and because I could not for the life of me believe that a smart scientist would fall in love with an arrogant, easily affronted, possibly not-so-smart guy, even if he had blond hair, blue-eyes and well defined muscles. The movie did not give a stirring defense of the love that developed between them and I believe that scientists are supposed to be attracted by brains, not brawn.

This movie was better, not just because Thor had really learned his lesson from the first movie and was less arrogant, but also because Loki had more lines and most of them were very funny.  It was great to see Rene Russo back in fighting form.  She has been a favorite actress of mine for her roles of making men the damsels in distress and for her gracious characters.  Kat Dennings continued to be the most charismatic female character in the story, adding both humor and gumption in recruiting an intern's intern.  And I loved seeing Christopher Eccleston ("Dr. Who", 2005) again and hearing his Northern England accent sometimes come through his Dark Elvish speeches.  Natalie Portman as Thor's love interest continues to be a bland, flat character, though this time she showed that she was a bit feisty by slapping both Thor and Loki, though Loki probably deserved more of a sucker punch.  Thor himself is definitely better in this movie, showing more intelligence, kindness, dedication to loved ones, even Loki and more in control of his anger.  However, the movie would have been much better if Stellan Skarsgaard, whom I love as Dr. Eric in the previous "Thor" and "The Avengers" movies,  had worn more clothes through his scenes.

I must confess, that if I were single and had a choice between Loki and Thor, I would choose Loki. I know, that is a totally anti-Christian response because we are supposed to love the good guy, not the evil one/morally ambiguous guy.  However, I have a weakness for funny men and I love the dark hair/blue or grey eye combination, which is far less common than blue eyes/blond hair.  If I have to choose between humor and well-defined pecs, humor wins hands-down every time.

And this is why I am totally grateful to God, because my husband has all that Loki has to offer in being incredibly funny.  And I love the fact that my husband's hair, which used to be dark, now more closely matches his grey/blue eyes.  Best yet, I don't have to feel conflicted about his character because he is a man after God's own heart, which is not to say that he is perfect, but that he is humble before God and is willing to listen when advice or constructive criticism is offered.  He has our family's best interests at heart and pursues them.  It is why I have been able to trust him with my life and be able to imperfectly submit to him as the leader of our family.  He is the type of man that I pray that my sons will grow up to be and that my daughters will marry someday.

March 2, 2014

Marathon DNF or "Running With Wings Like Eagles Makes Me Dizzy"

Yesterday, before the race started, I quoted Isaiah 40:31--"But those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength.  The will mount up with wings like eagles.  They will run and  not grow weary.  They will walk and not grow faint."  Sadly, I did not finish (DNF) the marathon.  I was doing great.  I made it up all the hills and down the hills.  I ran in the rain and without seeing the sun, which was actually a relief.  I had made it to the halfway point.  And then, somewhere near mile 14, I started feeling out of it and a bit dizzy.  I called my husband and asked him to pray for me.  I started walking and taking deep breaths.  The feeling didn't go away and  my legs started to seize up.  At the mile 15 rest stop, I stopped for a moment and the people there gathered around me and asked me how I was doing.  I confessed that I was feeling dizzy.  They suggested that I stop.  I wasn't about to argue.  And yes, I started crying, feeling defeated.  Everyone at the race stop was so kind.  They reminded me that I had run 15 miles, which was quite an accomplishment.  It helped.  I sat on the ground and stretched, waiting for the "car of shame" to arrive and carry me to the finishing point.  They guys driving me were saying the same thing.  My husband and kids comforted me as did the runners from East Valley Running club, with whom I have trained for the last five months.  My family and I ate lunch together and got in the car to go home as the heavens opened and rain poured down in buckets.  More words of kindness and encouragement came from friends and family when I posted  my results on Facebook.  And with every posting, God was whispering His "Amen" to their words.  Rain in the middle of the night woke me up and the words "Not strong enough..." kept popping in my head and I started crying again.  My husband prayed for me and as he did, God completed the sentence with one word: "...yet."  That comforting word lulled me to sleep with visions of running just like in Isaiah 40:31.

This morning, God continued to sing me a love song by having Mandissa's "Overcomer" playing on the radio as the alarm went off this morning:  "...You might be down for a moment, feeling that it's hopeless, and that's when He'll remind you--You're an overcomer..."  On my walk with the dog, I put on my Marathon playlist and set it to shuffle.  However, there was nothing random about the songs that were played:  The first four songs were "I Feel Pretty" (West Side Story), "Wait and See" (Brandon Heath), "Remind Me Who I Am" (Jason Gray) and "All Creation" (Brian Doerkson/Vineyard Worship).  He reminded me what my husband had been telling me, that my training was not without fruit because I was stronger, my body was leaner and I had developed enough strength to run 15 miles AND He had been teaching me so much through it.  He reminded me how beautiful I am in His eyes ("I Feel Pretty"), that  He won't forget me, nor is He finished with me yet ("Wait and See"), that regardless of what I do, I am the one He loves ("Remind Me Who I Am") and that He will provide all that I need ("All Creation") for which I am incredibly thankful.   Then came the worship songs, which I unabashadly sang to Him who is my Savior, Messiah, Redeemer and Friend, even though I was still walking the dog and making a fool of myself and in danger of torturing people with the sound of my singing.

So I will listen to the words of Isaiah 40:31 and wait on the Lord, on His timing, on His provision and teaching and I will follow His lead which will make me stronger in so many ways, so that the next time He calls me to run a marathon, IF He calls me to run a marathon, I will run and not grow weary--at least until I cross the finish line.

P.S.  I have also come up with a list of the benefits of not finishing that outweighs the loss of some bling (the medal) and the title of "marathon finisher":

  1. I still earned the T-shirt and arm warmers (which aren't much more than adornments for anywhere other than Arizona) by starting the race and training for five months.
  2. I can move today.
  3. I can walk (with some difficulty).
  4. I can bend down, given enough time.
  5. I can walk up and down stairs, gingerly.
  6. I showed my kids that even grown ups fail and have to pick themselves up and try again and are thankful for the chance to try.
  7. Best of all, I will be able to run before the end of the week :-D

February 26, 2014

The Marathon cometh

In three days, I will be running my first marathon.  Two years ago, this wouldn't have been on my radar.  I was just glad to run for 20 minutes.  But then I ran a 10K and survived.  And I ran another 10K and survived.  And then my brother-in-law and sister-in-law ran a marathon.  And another sister-in-law completed a biatholon, the running and bicycling kind, not the cross-country skiing and shooting targets kind.  They were my inspiration.  Then I realized I needed better shoes and maybe some other stuff to help me recover.  So on Saturday, I will get up sometime around 4 am to make sure I make the last bus taking me out to the start of the race at 5am to start running at 6 am.  It will be the final sacrifice of sleep for this marathon that I will make.  My biggest challenge will come around mile 18, when I will be running 1/2 mile south of my house and be sorely tempted to make a right turn on Harris to go home.  But I am confident that my family will be there to cheer me on and keep me going in the right direction.

My last few weeks have been a bit discouraging because I have been suffering from pain that caused me to NOT complete my 20 mile run of the official marathon route.  I have been doing a lot of stretching, using the roller and "the stick" and very little running to give my legs the maximum rest.  The few times I have run, it has been short, fast runs that I have really enjoyed and reminded me of why I started running in the first place and my attitude has improved.  I have spent a lot of time training for this and my goals are pretty basic:  finish it within 6 hours with a secondary goal of finishing below 5 hours. To accomplish this, my plan is to run a 10K without stopping for anything except bathroom and drinks, then speed walk 0.3 mile.  Run a little more than a 10K to reach the halfway point and speedwalk 0.4 miles.  Two more 10Ks separated by a 0.3 mile rest will bring me to the finish line.  The first half is almost totally downhill, so my average might be closer to 10:30, but after that, I will try to keep a 13:00 pace in my runs and 15:00 walking pace.  I am bringing marzipan and Gu to give me energy in between stops.  I might also bring the 1L camelback as much to carry the food and focus on drinking the gatorade at the rest stops.  The Marathon is providing Cliff Shots which have made me feel sick in the past.  My pre-race meal which seems to work for me is a banana and 1/2 cliff bar.  I might need the camelback just to keep my stash.  I will be running in an orange shirt with  arm warmers and shorts, unless the forecast is for rain, in which I will wear a loose rain jacket and leggings so that I don't deal with chafing from the wet shorts.

I keep telling myself that I have prepared for this as much as I can and God has given me the strength and determination to keep going even when I wanted to quit.  He has brought four wonderful women in my life through the East Valley Runners group who have encouraged me in each long run.  Most of them are running the half marathon, but one lady will be running with me.  And He has made me stronger through it, mentally as well as spiritually.  He has proven that I can do all things through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).  And He has been showing me why He gave me Hebrews 12:1-2 as my life verse all those years ago when I hated running:  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off all that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and run with perseverance the race set before us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (my words from memory).  The training I have done for this race has been so good for me, though training in godliness through it that God has done in my heart during the many runs, both short and long has been of greater value (1Timothy 4:8). I praise God for encouraging me to accomplish this and for carrying me through the difficulties that come with training for it.  And I will rejoice in the fatigue and inability to walk on Sunday, much less go up stairs.

January 15, 2014

Running my butt off

There is a literal component to my title, but it also reflects how much running I am doing to prepare for the Marathon.  In fact, considering how much I have hated running up until 2 years ago, when I realized how quick and easy it is to get ready to run, my mileage is getting pretty impressive.

There have been set backs.  I started to develop a Bermuda Triangle of pain--right foot, left knee and right hip which sent me to get an abbreviated consult with a physical trainer who gave me some exercises to help me with it.  While I was trying to run the plan for the experienced runners, for which I qualified because I have run a 10K, I started experiencing exhaustion that left once I humbled myself and moved to the running plan for inexperienced runners.  It also reduced the amount pain in my foot/hip/knee.  I have have yet to run any of my long distance without having to walk part of the distance.

The last long run involved long stretches of uphill and equal amounts of downhill. The uphill portions were so hard and I ran the first set way too fast for my legs because they gave out on me at mile 10 when I was supposed to run 17 miles.  I cut it short and walked 14 miles.  At the beginning, however, one runner gave me some great advice as I was struggling:  "Don't focus on the uphill portions, focus on how it will feel going downhill."  And isn't that what the Bible tells us to do?
"Fix your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame..."  (Hebrews 12:2)
"So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light, momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison..."  (2 Corinthians 4:16-17)

And so, I have taken joy in considering every run a learning experience, not a failure to meet goal X.  For instance, I have learned never listen to a comedy-based podcast while trying to run--you can't run and laugh simultaneously.  When your body is telling to to make a potty stop, walk until you can reach a potty because you cannot run and "hold it."  Plan your route on long runs to include potty stops because you WILL hear the call of the potty at some point.  Carry money with you to buy something from the gas station/coffee shop/grocery store when you use their facilities to thank them.  Or just leave them some extra money.  Don't eat Gu on an empty stomach, thinking that it will give you energy for the run because all of that sugar will give you the runs.  My personal preference for pre-run food is a banana and half  a cliff bar if I am running a long distance.  I save the other half for when I am done.  Marzipan is a great running food--much better than Gu because it has sugar and a bit of protein and melts in your mouth without the need to chew it and tastes SO much better. Walking is okay because it allows you to exercise different muscles. Running with people is better than running alone.   Polar heart beat monitors cause really bad welts on my chest.  Chafing can happen in the bosom area (sorry for the TMI).  Anytime you run father than you ever have run, even if it is not the distance you should run is a successful run.

I have learned that I can do more than I think I can do, that running without music is a great time to experience God and running can be a wonderful date with your husband, especially when he is as encouraging and supportive as my husband.  He slowed down and stayed with me during the St. Paul Turkey Trot even when I was having a bad attitude because it was SO incredibly cold.  So many of the runners I have met through the East Valley Runners club have been uplifting during the run and helped me become mentally stronger as I persevere during the long distances.  In fact, we came up with a motivational song:
"Hit the road (name).  I know you can run some more, some more, some more, some more.  Hit the road (name).  I know you can run some more.  Yes we can!" (to the tune of "Hit the Road, Jack).

I will end with a new song by Jonathon Thulin that has been playing in my head.  I love the imagery in this song, which is matched by his song "Dead Come to Life"

January 10, 2014

Lost Dutchman Inspiration

We hiked at Lost Dutchman State Park on New Year's Day with MANY other people.  We got there too late for the guided tour, but apparently well before the rest of the parking lots filled up.  There is one part of the mountain which is called "praying hands" because the rocks look like two hands together in prayer.  However, a different formation caught my attention.  I call it, the "praising hands" feature because it looks like a series of hands raised up giving praise to God.

This started a couple songs plying in my head,which I will share via videos.  The first song is called "Open Skies" by the David Crowder Band

The second song was from the "Passion:  Waiting Here For You" album and sung by Christy Nockels.

I also had some verses playing in my head that I tracked down to Psalm 19.

So basically, I felt as if I was joining the mountain in worshipping God for the amazing complexity and beauty of His creation, of which I am a infinitesimally small part.  Even without that amazing experience, it was a great day because it was January, I was with my family soaking up the sun and getting some exercise and fresh air.  And I waited until after the polar vortex headed back north to post this to avoid hate mail, to which I would reply, "Just wait until summer."

January 1, 2014

Happy New Year with a new focus

So the year is done and I have less than a month to prepare for my older son's 11th birthday.  Last year, inspired by I focused on joy with moderate success.  This year as I have been praying to figure out what God wants me to focus my efforts for the coming year, many words have come to me.  In Bridgetender Academy this year, the focus has been to help my kids become kinder and more respectful to each other because those are life skills that God values. God has been working powerfully in me to help me become kinder and more respectful, though, as all Christians, I stumble and need His grace, forgiveness and restoration.  I am seeing some response in the kids, but have gone through a rough period of backlash that reminds me that progress is never a straight path, but a series of loops that go through mountains and ditches.

But kindness is not what God wants me to focus on this year.  The word I kept getting from Him while running this week is "presence."  With my iPhone and other things, it is so easy to check out of pretty much everything and even easier to take a 2 second "check out" when in a group of people to see what is going on in some application or other.  We have instant video through Amazon and Netflix and then there are blogs to read which "need" comments.  None of these things individually are bad.  In fact, I can say that I have made new friends with Ken and Christie Hagermann, missionaries in Asuncion,Paraguay because I made comments on their blog and comments led to email and email led to a Skype conversation to help them celebrate the New Year at 8pm our time last night.  However, obsessively checking Facebook or other interactive applications on our phones and putting priority on them rather than people is exactly the opposite of the overall job God has given us of loving Him with everything we have and loving our neighbors as ourselves.  It is distracted living, which is far more dangerous than distracted driving, because we can miss so many blessings, so many treasured moments, so many opportunities to show the love of Jesus and have really NOTHING to show for it.  So my goal this year is to be fully present with God, fully present with my family, fully present with friends and fully present with neighbors and whoever He throws in my path.  And this is what it will look like:

  • Less Facebook presence--feel free to call me out on FB when I start backsliding (because backsliding is part of persevering)
  • Less comments on blogs, though I will still keep reading the blogs that I am reading because I REALLY enjoy reading them. 
  • More phone calls to keep in touch.  Be forwarned!
  • More face-to-face time for AZ folks
Happy New Year.  May God bless you and keep you, may He make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)