Saturday, March 30, 2013

Happy Easter

Ron & I have pretty much had children between us the entirety of our marriage.  Finding someone to watch the kids can be a problem, and we have gone for long stretches without having any time out as a couple.  This is not good for anyone. Recently we found a sitter, so we have had a few dates.  Being a bit rusty, I prayed about the first one.  It turned out to be surprising and sweet. 

It was winter, and there was a good amount of fresh snowfall.  I had seen a on a friend's facebook some lovely woodland scenes she had posted from her morning trek that day.  I thought we should follow her lead and take a walk along the same path near our home.  The white blanketed trees sparkled in the stinging air.  The crunching of our feet was fresh to hear against the quiet, not having kids along to yammer and make noise the whole time.  It was enjoyable, but COLD.  My friend's photos had failed to capture the wind chill, and though we were glad we had tried it, we made it brief.

Deliberating on our next destination, as we were driving, we saw signs for an art show.  I love to look at artwork, especially without the kids.  It turned out the exhibit was at the local high school.  We decided to check it out. Upon entering the building we found it was a district-wide affair.  They had everything from kindergarten classes and up, in all areas of fine arts.  It was really pretty cool.  As we wandered through the halls admiring the students' projects we came to a large, round, window-lit stairwell.  A group of about fifteen highschoolers, dressed in medieval costumes, stood along the wall and across against the railing, curving up the staircase. The young men and women, completely at ease with each other and their audience, began to sing.

The hallway filled with rich tones in Renaissant harmonies. They were really good. As they sang they smiled, and I knew they were enjoying the wit of the lyrics and the fun of singing together.  I was surprised by joy.  After hearing all the time about troubles with teenagers, here they were--a whole bunch of 'em--sweetly singing.  Their performance was flawless, provoking my emotions as music often does.  I tried to hold the tears back. I felt so blessed to be at this lovely concert, unexpected. I was overwhelmed.

It reminds me of a time, many years ago, when I visited a church.  I hadn't been to churches much in my life.  The building was pretty, not huge, but stone, with large stained glass windows.  It was a perfect spring morning, everything pale green, moist, first flowers in bloom. The air was sweet. Sunlight was streaming into the sanctuary. A flock of children came flowing in from the back, singing, as they came down the center aisle.  Their voices were so beautiful, like angels, I thought. I had spent so much time in the dirt, their song was like a healing balm that flooded my tired, broken soul with hope.

It was there that the pastor spoke about this parable that Jesus told:

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off."--Matt. 18:12-13         

It was like he was speaking directly to me, and at that time I desperately needed to hear it.     

Fast-forward back to my date with Ron:  After the art show we headed over to our favorite authentic Mexican restaurant.  I discovered that Mexicans make the most wonderful cinnamony coffee.  We had delicious avocado tostadas so gorgeously stacked they looked (and tasted) like birthday cakes.  I was completely refreshed.  The Lord always knows exactly what I need, when I need it.  He is the Good Shepherd.

Happy Easter.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Love of God

Something occurred to me the other night that I had never thought of before.  Jesus had a choice.  He didn't have to go to the cross. 

Why, after 18 years of following Christ, hadn't I realized that?  Maybe it was my own blinding sense of "entitlement" as a spoiled, rich American. Although I am in truth needy, it is not my cries that command the One who can save me.  As wonderful as it is, somehow it is hard to admit how much He loves me (us).  One of my favorite teachers likes to point out, "God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance." (Rom.2:4)

His kindness cost more than we know:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.  Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.  And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him--Heb. 5:7-9

This same teacher has also many times equated faith and obedience. "And without faith it is impossible to please God"--Heb. 11:6a  Obedience is a demonstration of our faith.  Jesus had a choice, and we have a choice:

"Faith requires the possibility of rejection, or it is not faith." --Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew

We can have faith in God, and we can demonstrate that faith. But part of it is believing--"because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists"--Heb. 11:6b  How thankful I am for the father who cried out to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!”--Mark 9:24b  Again, God shows His kindness in the words of this story.  Jesus does help his unbelief--"he rewards those who earnestly seek him."--Heb. 11:6c  Those 18 years ago I sought to settle the question.  I could not rest until it was decided. Was Jesus the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6) or not? 

After wrestling with the question for quite a while, here is how I came to the conclusion that Jesus is the Son of God:  I thought about what the world would look like if I determined that He was not--if my perception of things would change. If, say, I would look at a tree and see it as any different. It was a pivotal moment for me. The thought of even a tree, without Jesus being Who He said He was, was horrific.  Like all the color went out of it, and the world, and there was no hope.  So, I believed. I decided that Jesus is the Son of God.

It was a good decision.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Mr. Bean

My husband, Ronald, is 100% Dutch.  I don't know if this is the reason, but he has hobbies.  He has to be busy. He cannot loll around. He calls it "the Dutch curse."  This has played out in various ways over the years.  Fishing, gardening, shooting, house projects, weight-lifting... Lately he has been into roasting his own coffee.  Contributing to this obsession is his professional experience working in laboratories and his knowledge of science.   

Ron has spent hours researching where to find the best beans, methods of roasting, brewing, etc.  He follows precise formulas using a gram scale to measure his ingredients.  He has a special hand grinder with ceramic inner workings (I found this out after accusing them of being plastic).  He has a special pot to heat water and various filter papers. Ron has experimented with different brewing systems which have included a chemex, presspot, stove-top espresso pot, and his stand-by--the pour-over filter cone.

He roasts the beans in the garage, using second-hand hot-air popcorn poppers.  This process fills the air with smoke that smells like burnt popcorn, though Ronald insists it is a delicious coffee aroma.  However, in the morning when he grinds the freshly prepared beans, a smell comes wafting up the stairs so enticing that it is almost visible.  

Living with someone is challenging, because all people are at times bothersome.  My wonderful husband, as perfect as he may be, sometimes bugs me.  Part of it is his perfectionism.  I'm not saying that because he's Dutch he's persnickety, but, well he is 100%.  Watching him spend so much time painstakingly going through all this rigamarole for a cup of coffee sometimes just gets to me. 

The other day I sort of let it slip out.  I said, "You know, you are really kind of annoying with your coffee."  To which he quickly replied, "You know, you are really kind of annoying with your blog."

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.--Matt. 7:2

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Recently my boys discovered an old Klutz Press instructional book, Draw the Marvel Comics Super Heroes.  This manual shows incrementally how to replicate such greats as Spiderman, the Hulk, and various X-Men. It also includes translucent pages, allowing you to produce a finished portrait of these stupendous characters without going to the trouble of actually learning how to draw them.

Finding the steps involved in making original compositions difficult, my genetically lazy kids basically went through the books tracing all the drawings. Once the see-through pages were used up, they wanted a new book.  I said, "No, I'm not going to buy you a whole new book just so you can trace the same pictures again. I will, however, buy you some tracing paper."

I could have insisted they go through the book and learn the actual process of drawing the figures. Or, if I were more energetic, sat alongside them and helped them through it.  If I were a "good" homeschool mom maybe this exercise in lameness would have been curtly dismissed.  But then, there was the upside.  It kept them busy.

Last fall, being optimistic, I had put art on the schedule every day of the school year.  It being March, I was long tired of thinking up things to do for art class.  Though this was not the most productive form of learning, they loved doing it, which also meant no whining and complaining.  And sometimes, the fact that they love doing something is partly why we originally wanted to homeschool.  I don't always have to squash the enthusiasm out of them with torturous still-lifes.

While in the dreaded Wal-Mart, looking for tracing paper, the boys spotted Star Wars: The Clone Wars Super Fun Book to Color.  It had big white pages with clear contours of subjects they would never be able to tackle on their own--perfect for tracing. Though I cringed at the price, it turned out to be the best $4 I'd spent in a while. They were fast and furious at this project. They would wake me up at 6 a.m. and ask if they could do their tracing.  They kept at it for hours.

Despite the black fingerprints on the walls and white kitchen cabinets, the papers, markers, and pencils strewn all over the place, I was happy. Moms of boys at the end of winter know how precious any respite from their fighting and boredom can be.  And they were ecstatic at being able to make drawings that were really cool. The finished product looked just like their "real" heroes.  They know they can't do that by themselves, but they really want to. They don't want to do some crummy drawing that looks nothing like what they're trying to depict. 

Having a minor in fine arts, I did genuinely see some use in this exercise.  My professors had us copy the great masters' works, and it was extremely helpful--to see how they put down a line, expressed a figure.  I learned from Michelangelo how to draw a knee.  Maybe the kids would learn something, even if subliminally, from their tracing.  Writers read to get better at writing.  Artists look at other artists' work to improve their own. And you really see much more clearly when you're so focused, copying line for line.

I used to like to write poetry in college, but forgot about it for a long time.  When trying to pick it up again I was extremely rusty.  And like painting or any other form of artwork, it takes total concentration and focus.  Homeschool moms do not have this.  My brain is oatmeal at this point.  So, my later attempts at poetry writing were hopeless.

But I still enjoy good poetry when I come across it--if it's not too demanding.  And I have found the best poetry ever written, in the Psalms.  So, oftentimes I find myself copying the words of the Psalmist.  I can think his thoughts after him and my mind is lifted to a plane above what I am able to reach on my own.  Like my kids, I am tracing the masterful works of another...but much more so because these words are inspired by the Holy Spirit.  The beauty of the words themselves is undeniable.  I've never read poetry so profound.  The heroes described are real, everlasting, and true.

In copying the Psalms my heart is strengthened,  my soul is refreshed, and my mind is brought into line with where it should be. Most of the Psalms were written by David, a man after God's own heart. (Acts 13:22) That is an attribute I want to copy.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Victory in Jesus

A couple of years ago my hair started falling out--by the hundreds each day. The doctor thought I still had plenty of hair and wasn't concerned, but it was quite distressing to me.  God understands this, as the Bible states that a woman's hair is her glory. (1 Cor. 11:15)  Having several friends a bit older than me,  from their experience I had an idea what might be the cause, and asked to have my iron levels tested.

A nurse shared the results over the phone, "The normal scale for ferritin is 10 to 232.  Yours is 10, so you're in the normal range." 
"Did you say 10 to 32?" I asked. 
"No, 10 to 232." 
"And you think 10 is good...Um, do you think it would be okay if I took some iron supplements?" 
"Sure. It wouldn't hurt."

I went online and found out that anything below 70 can cause hair loss.  Thankful for the ability to just go to the drugstore and buy some iron pills, I did. After approximately 8 weeks, my hair loss had subsided to a normal level.  Thank goodness. 

Well, for years I also suffered from another kind of deficiency--spiritual anemia. Like hair loss, it was a serious problem to me. But I had been told (even by myself) several times to just relax--to be content in that "normal range" of Christianity and not to get so worked up.  But my soul would not rest.  It got to be torturous at night, thinking about eternity and how I was not living up to my inheritance.  There was no escape. I almost feared losing my mind.

But deep down I knew what it was.  I'd been on the fence for so long, living a watered-down version of  faith.  Unable to shake off the sin that kept me from God, I cowered inside knowing my constant disobedience.  I did all the Christian stuff--went to church, read the Bible, prayed, had fellowship, and tried to obey God--but couldn't.  Unable to choose God over a stupid bowl of ice cream, or yelling at Ron, or being bitter and envious of others; I wanted to be different, but didn't know how.  Sometimes I even doubted my salvation.  The Christianity described in the Bible was not my experience.  There was no fruit.

Recently a lot has changed. I can't exactly spell out how it happened, but I have been transformed by the Holy Spirit. Probably it started with the heat of conviction, being driven by God to seek Him--in truth.  It was no longer enough to want what He could do for me.  I needed Him.  And He answered that prayer. 

After months of battle, the time finally came to get off God's throne and start obeying His commands.  But I still couldn't do it.  Just then someone came along who took the time to listen and to show me that I needed to put the focus on God, instead of on me.  Having known the need to die to self, I now saw that it was also necessary to allow God to raise me up, and that this step must be taken by faith--in Him. I now had to swallow that pill of truth, which is to say, humility. 

Christ is King, and I am not. Amazingly, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I have been able to walk increasingly in obedience.  He has broken the chains of some difficult sins. Not saying I'm perfect--far from it.  But I am at peace--no longer double-minded.  Knowing the reality of the Holy Spirit living in me promises a much greater glory than a nice head of hair:  "the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight."--1 Pet. 3:4  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

No Problemo

In learning to play a new song on the piano, invariably a "hard part" comes along that makes life difficult. More than a snag, it is a great big snarl that has to be worked through, bit by bit, repeat after repeat of the troubling section.  Lately I have had to perfect about 10 hymns each month for a hymn sing, so I have struggled with quite a few tangles. Usually they're not too bad. By slowing down, seeing what is going on in the different parts, playing each hand separately, or even listening to someone else perform it, I can most times get control of a hymn pretty quickly.  They're generally not very hard.  However, with most classical pieces, and even the occasional hymn, a point of frustration lurks, waiting to test my self-control.

I remember not long ago playing the same line of music over and over probably more than a hundred times.  Finally one night, I had had it.  I banged on the keys, stomped, shrieked, and yelled like a three-year-old.  My husband happened to be in the room and made the mistake of commenting on my behavior.  Surprisingly, I replied with something that actually made sense (to me).  I said that, yes, I was extremely frustrated; that after practicing a song that many times and still messing it up, any normal human being would lose it!  It was kind of a turning point for me, in terms of my bad temper.

I have always had a volatile disposition, and have felt bad about it.  Really the worst part about it is you make a fool of yourself.  So I guess it is at least humbling.  But I realized that night that there was a real point of exasperation, and I had reached it.  It wasn't so much my defect of character this time, but a reasonable response to hitting a wall.  And I even felt good about getting there, because for the majority of my life I have avoided frustration and humiliation by not persevering.  Here I was, doing the work, which involved plowing through this antagonism.

So I didn't feel guilty.  And after that, I sat down and played the piece through.  I don't even remember what it was now because I can play it without thinking.

Playing piano is one thing I love to do because it allows me to release what is deep inside, even if I didn't write the music.  It can be someone else's ideas I am expressing, with a bit of my personality thrown in.  The other day someone told me I play "beautifully," which I thought was funny because she has only heard me playing out of a hymnal.  There is not much room for artistic interpretation in that!  But maybe it was the beauty of the hymns themselves she was hearing. 

There are hard parts in life.  There has been one for me in comprehending the Gospel.  It is that Christ died for our sins.  He died for my sin.  That is the one thing about Christianity I have had trouble grasping.  It doesn't make any sense.  Once, for a flickering moment I thought I understood it.  Sitting in Pastor Brian's office as he was explaining it to me, unfolding God's righteousness, taking me through Hebrews and the Old Testament, expounding on the sacrifices...  It was enough for me --the Holy Spirit was there--my heart was sealed. That was 17 years ago.

Since then I have to admit it has been a recurrent problem.  I have studied and asked and listened and read.  I have thought and prayed and talked and written.  Still, it is inexplicable. And yet, it is what I base my life on--by faith. I will never completely understand what Jesus Christ has done.  My brain cannot contain it. But I am walking, walking by faith not by sight--like when you just forget what you're doing and the song seems to play itself through your hands.

"Abandonment never produces the consciousness of its own effort, because the whole life is taken up with the One to Whom we abandon...John 3:16 means that God gave Himself absolutely. In our abandonment we give ourselves over to God just as God gave Himself for us, without any calculation. "--Oswald Chambers

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Vermont Sugar Free Syrup

The title comes from the first item on my shopping list, which also happens to be scribbled with blog ideas.  I have few uninterrupted blocks of time to do this, so I have to jot down my thoughts and hope to remember what they mean later on.  For instance, I have "pets--fish" written, and have no clue what that was about.

I do find it funny that the sugar-free pancake syrup I buy is called "Maple Grove Farms Vermont Sugar Free Syrup," as if it came out of a real tree in some idyllic northeastern landscape.  Not a big fan of artificial sweeteners, but hey, gotta have my low-carb gluten-free pancakes.

Okay, I also have "bullies" down here, and don't know what that's about either.  But ah--here's one: "card catalog."  Now that will bring me to a topic.

I was a lover of the card catalog.  If you don't remember, it was a great oaken bureau found in the library. On the face of it were rows of small, but very long (when you pulled them out) drawers. Each one had a bronze handle and a label of the alphabetical section contained within it.  The drawers were stuffed with 3 x 5 typewritten cards that told you, by author or by title, where to find the book you wanted. It was a great system.  It worked.  But then came computers.

I am not against technology.  Writing on my laptop is ecstasy.  It might even be possible to make a helpful  program to use as a substitute for the card catalog.  However, the likelihood of our town's public library selecting such a system was about as likely as me winning the Pulitzer Prize.  For a time they kept both.  I did try the computer search on many occasions, as a test for my blood pressure.  It could bring a man to tears. I would type in the correct author and title of a book that I could see on the shelf and the computer would say it did not exist.  I remember it clearly.  It was D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths.  

Well, one day the inevitable finally happened.  I entered the public library and beheld the empty space. My beloved behemoth was gone.  I had begged them to keep it--just as a back-up.  I had even volunteered to personally keep it up to date.  But they were determined.  All was lost.  My hopes of ever finding a book easily and efficiently again had disappeared--poof!  

But you know, something positive has come of this tragedy.  Now forced to wander the stacks, hoping against hope I will find what I'm looking for...I have discovered...a whole bunch of cool books I might not have seen otherwise! 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

It's My Birthday and I'll Blog if I Want to

It's been an interesting year.  Things have not gone the way I had hoped, but much better.  We were intending to move, but didn't. My walk with the Lord has been rejuvenated.  It took some sitting still. There is something to Jer. 29:13--"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."  I had a plan--something I really wanted.  But my desire for what God wants has finally grown to where it took a stand.  Amazingly, I stuck my toe in the water of obedience which for me was, simply, to wait.

I have become weary of forcing my will.   Though God has been merciful, there are real consequences for my foolish stubbornness.  There is also something to Acts 26:14--" is hard for thee to kick against the pricks."

Recently I confessed to a friend that I have not been a good wife.  I have been critical, controlling, and crabby.  I didn't want to be this way, but like many other sinful habits I found it hard to escape.  She recommended I fast against this stronghold.  I've been having some problematic issues with fasting lately, so we decided that a week long fast off "treats" might do as a substitute. It went really well.  This friend is actually a mentor and she has steered me right many times.

One of the things she has taught me that has helped immensely is to spend time praising God. I had known the formula "ACTS" for prayer time (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) but had kind of struggled with the "A" part.  My friend told me that she would put on worship music and praise God that way.  I really don't care for most "contemporary Christian" music, so I kind of thought that wouldn't work  well for me...but what I do like are hymns.  One morning I decided to take my hymnal off the piano and began to sing some of the lyrics in praise to the Lord.  I cannot begin to express how this began a WAY closer walk with God than I have ever had before. 

Psalm 100:4 says, "Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name."  I have felt this verse come alive, as though praise is actually a key with which to enter into his courts.  It has been for me, time and time again, whether I feel like it or not.  I "just do it" and am blessed.

Very recently I have begun considering being resurrected with Christ.  Before, I was so busy trying to "put to death" the "old" and not even thinking toward the "new."  Always looking at my sinfulness and forgetting to look up at Christ.  These are central verses to me now:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.--Gal. 2:20

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.--2 Cor. 5:17

...for we walk by faith, not by sight.--2 Cor. 5:7

They all speak of living, being, walking...not sitting on a fence.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

My Trip to San Diego

Well, after many, many years, I finally made it back to California.  This is entirely because of my husband, Ron.  He knows how to travel.  Well, I did have a part in it--got us $600 in airline ticket vouchers.  So, with our two boys in tow, we made the trek to a land where I had always dreamed I'd live one day.

The photo is of course not San Diego, but Anza Borrego Desert.  It was so weird and cool.  Never would have gone there either if not for Ron.  Didn't think it would be worth driving two hours through the mountains... Wrong! The mountains themselves were equally fantastic.  Gigantic whitish boulders scattered over grassy hillsides, towering earthen peaks looking like enormous brown folded blankets...indescribable, really.

San Diego was also an alien world.  Hundreds of plants I had never seen before--the breeze smelling sweet with them.  Where would one even begin learning to identify all this completely unfamiliar stuff?  And of course the beach was perfection.  The continuous pulsing roar, sandy shores, waves of blues, greens, purples, luscious foamy whites....  Surfers were everywhere, even though it was in the 50's.  And I could see why--to be in those waves--almost like part of them.  It was tremendous just watching them.

We stayed in a well-furnished southwestern style townhome, which had two lovely porches overlooking the neighborhood. It was clean, comfortable, and in an interesting and convenient location.  We found plenty to do and most of it was free, or at least affordable.  (Ron made many trips to the French bakery around the corner!)   He had also rented a convertible for our stay and that was fun.  It had satellite radio so we sometimes found great songs to listen to, old breezy hippie-ish tunes from the early 70's.  Part of me started to hearken back to the old desires of my heart--to be unencumbered by all this uptightness which now pretty much fits like an old glove, or a sock, or a uniform, or a vice.

An internal struggle began to arise as I tried to fit the feelings I was having with my life as a follower of Christ--what I was soaking up from the California-ness around me, and the yearning for happiness and a carefree spirit that was welling up from deep down inside.  I knew that part of it was right and part of it was wrong.

The setting was thought provoking to say the least.  To be away from my midwestern-bent ways and to see things from another point of view was bracing.  It was extremely helpful to actually experience it--to breathe that other air. I am still taking all this in, but I think the temptation is classic: to glorify myself or to glorify Him.