Dec 6, 2012 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Seeing the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths
and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.   Luke 2:6-7

This is just two verses and yet it contains so much truth and joy!  We enter the scene as Mary, nearly nine months pregnant, travels with her fiance to a strange town to be registered with the government.  This scene is already scandalous because Mary and Joseph are not married, and yet Mary’s growing stomach causes the world to question her purity.  I don’t know if she traveled with her head hung low because of the constant whispering about her situation, or with her head high, knowing she was carrying an incredibly precious package.  Either way, it is safe to say she drew unfriendly glances.  While on this journey, Mary began having contractions.  I can imagine Joseph trying to comfort Mary as they went not to the hospital, but to the hotel.  But not even the inn is available.  So they go to a stable.  Its cold outside and the stable is drafty, not to mention smelly (I mean animals lived there!)  It is unsanitary, uncomfortable, and unfitting for a king.  Yet this is where Jesus was born.  Mary laid him in a trough filled with hay.  There was no doctor, no epidural, no APGAR scores, no blanket, no extended family, no baby showers, and no comforts.  To an onlooker it may have seemed like a pitiful and saddening scene.  However, it was anything but!  It was in this ordinary stable that royalty was born.

One of the beautiful things in Scripture is that God takes ordinary things and makes them extraordinary.  He took a stable and made it a palace.  He took water and made it a cleansing river of life.  He took bread and wine and made them symbols of redemption.  In turn, it is our job not to allow such extraordinary things to become common again.  No matter how many times we celebrate Christmas, it should take our breaths away to think that Jesus, who created the cosmos, was born as a baby.  A baby who was totally dependent upon his parents for clothing and nourishment.  This baby would grow to live perfectly and die for our shortcomings.  This is our only hope in life and death.  And it all started with a young girl with birth pangs in a stable…

I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas as you strive to remember that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father,
full of grace and truth.”  John 1:14. 

Dec 5, 2012 - Humor    No Comments

O Holy Night

I introduced my parents to this little ditty last year. We watched it at least a dozen times. Laughed hilariously. Imitated. Parroted and charaded as this singer. Everything was fine until our church sang O Holy Night last Christmas eve. We dissolved in a puddle of hysterics and shaking and were absolutely rendered useless singers.

Watch this link at your own risk. If you have any plans to sing O Holy Night over the next month… you might want to abstain so as not to have the same fate as mine!

Dec 4, 2012 - Exegesis    1 Comment

Happened Upon?

“So she [Ruth] set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech.”  Ruth 2:3

This sentence is one of the greatest understatements in the Bible.  After 10 years in Moab and the loss of all the men in her family, Naomi, burdened and grieving, journeyed back to Bethlehem with her daughter-in-law, Ruth.  Naomi was bitter at God and did not understand the loss of her husband and two sons.  After returning to Bethlehem, Ruth took it upon herself to provide for Naomi.  The women did not have two pennies to rub together, so Ruth’s only option was to glean.  In the Old Testament, gleaning was commanded by the Lord to provide for the poor, widows, fatherless, and sojourner in the land.  Gleaning entailed the land owners purposefully leaving some scraps of food while harvesting their fields.  The poor in the land could then scour the fields and collect grain for their food.  It wasn’t a lucrative or safe option, but it was the only one Ruth had.

Until this point, it looks like a dire scene.  Two lone women, man-less and grieving, eating whatever they can gather from the ground.  But then we come to Ruth 2:3, “she happened to come to a part of the field belonging to Boaz.”  With all the farmers in Bethlehem, what are the odds that she would stumble upon Boaz’ crop?  Ruth, at the mercy of the landowners while gleaning, comes upon the field belonging to Boaz.  Throughout the book of Ruth we learn that not only is Boaz a godly man of worthy character, but that he is also Ruth’s kinsman redeemer.  He was the chosen man who would redeem Ruth from her grief, her poverty, her emptiness, and her childlessness.  Boaz is an archetype of Christ to these two downtrodden women and the text, in a type of literary reverse psychology, simply says “she happened to come upon a field.”  It is safe to say that such wording simplifies the deep wisdom and orchestration of God in the lives of his beloved in this scenario.  An understanding of God’s providence and sovereignty allows us to know that Ruth did not come to Boaz’ field by chance, or happenstance, or luck, but by the will of God.  And the beautiful thing is that the same providence and sovereignty is at work in the lives of all those who love Jesus and trust in his will for their lives.  As I have recently finished classes, graduated, and prepare to take the next steps in this journey called life, it may look to me as if I “just happen to come upon” my future endeavors.  But I can know that there is a deeper and bolder power at work which guides my steps.  My job is to be an active gleaner and wait to be guided to the field God has for me.

Where have you “happened upon” in life?  Do you view your current situations and associations as coincidental or the providential hand of God?  How are you “actively gleaning” in obedience and waiting to see the will of God in your life?  

Whether your life is joyous or seemingly monotonous, remember the words of Charles Spurgeon: “If there were any place better for you than the one in which you find yourself, Divine Love would have placed you there.”

Dec 3, 2012 - Devotional    3 Comments

Be Kinder than Necessary

“Be kinder than necessary for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”
T.H. Thompson & John Watson

I came across this quote recently and I’ve been unable to get it out of my head.

I’ve felt its truth in my own life. I sometimes fool myself into thinking that as soon as I can handle this conflict or challenge or battle then life will be easier. I called that “checkpoint living” in a previous post. That kind of thinking is a lie. As soon as one battle is settled, another – often fiercer one – is waiting in the wings to take its place. This side of Heaven, we will struggle. Life will not be perfect. There will be grief.

And the same is true for everyone else.

That’s what I love about the quote. We can all agree that our lives are difficult and filled with both inner turmoil and outer struggles. We can become consumed with our own battles, never realizing the angst in others’ lives. The point of this quote is to get outside of yourself, to overcome your battle by fighting self-centeredness and choosing to love one-another rather than become consumed by your own frays.

A friend of my parents lost her four year old little girl in a car accident several years ago. I remember her relating a story from that time in her life. Just a few short days after her daughter passed away, she attempted to hide her tears and her grief long enough to go to the mall and buy something to wear for the funeral. She drove to the mall, parked, entered the store, shopped, tried on dresses and checked price tags. She went through the motions to fulfill this practical need, but felt robotic, detached, numb as she checked off the details on her to do list. She smiled at the clerk as she made her purchase, all the while screaming on the inside with the pain and freshness of her loss. The clerk smiled back, made small talk, commented on the fabric of her dress and the sale happening next week. The grieving mother was just seconds from losing her cool, collected facade. She could barely handle the idleness of such talk with the raw emotions raging her heart.

As she left the store, a thought struck her. She began to walk through the mall – looking at all the smiling faces and wondered, “Who else is suffering?” How many people were veiling their grief with a protective smile just like she was? How many people had experienced tragedy and were just trying to get through the day? She concluded that she would assume that everyone was mourning, grieving, or hurting somehow and that would influence how she interacted with them.

Yes, it’s true that you have battles. Fight for joy! But don’t stop there! Let’s fight alongside each other with kindness and love. “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone is fighting some kind of battle.”

Dec 2, 2012 - My Story    No Comments

The Pothole Gospel

As a woman, it is one of the things I hate most.  Car repairs. I hate not knowing the inner workings of my old Corolla friend. I hate feeling taken advantage of because of my ignorance. But mostly, I hate being stranded when things unexpected go wrong. This is where our story picks up.
I was on my way to the third house of the a progressive dinner at church when a pothole suddenly lunged from the median, swallowing my front driver’s side tire.
I hit it hard and I hit it square.

I turned off the radio to hear for clues as to just how much damage had been caused by the insidious, lurking pothole. It didn’t sound normal. I found a place to safely pull to the side of the road and got out to see if my eyes to ascertain the level of damage better than my ears. My hub cap was badly scraped, as was my tire. I did what all women do in such a situation – I kicked the tire. I’m not quite sure where we get this from, but it is somehow instinctive.  The tire seemed to be holding air – even with repeated kicks (at least as forceful as I could muster in dress shoes). So I continued to the final house of the night to get an expert opinion.
After arriving, eating desserts, and playing a few games, the evening was drawing to a close. I asked one of the guys to follow me out to my car and assess the damage from a male perspective (which would probably utilize something much more useful than a kick). I pride myself on being very independent. In some sense that is both the blessing and the plight of a single woman. I have a job, pay my own bills, and am responsible for myself. But it also means that I dislike asking for help. A good friend of mine often reminds me that a knight can’t show his bravery when the damsel won’t admit her distress! So I thought it was a big step for me to even ask for help.

The gentleman agreed to be “knightly” and check on the state of my car, but as we arrived at my car, it didn’t take an expert eye to recognize a completely flat tire. Drat! But before I even had time to bemoan my pothole predicament, this man had called two more guys out to begin the task of replacing the flat tire with my spare. All I did in the entire exchange was pop my trunk for them. Tires, jacks, wrenches, flashlights, bolts, and air pressure gauges flew out of secret hiding places I did not even know my car had! As I stood, admiring the skill and helpfulness of these men who were assisting me out of a bind, I felt loved and taken care of – something I often miss as I am so focused on being independent and forging my own way. There was something deeply feminine about needing assistance and something strongly masculine about the help being offered freely. I could have kicked off my heels, cranked the jack, and helped loosen lug nuts, but I didn’t have to. And I really appreciated that. It was beautiful to me to see my brothers in the body of Christ go out of their way to assist me.


After a short period of time the flat tire was resting in my trunk (it’d had a hard night and was tired) and the sad looking spare was on in its place. Then we realized that my spare tire was also low on air. I suppose that is to be expected after riding around in a secret compartment for ten years in the heat of Florida, but it was disappointing nonetheless. So instead of sending me on my way ten pounds of pressure short, two gentlemen offered to follow me to a nearby gas station, and then proceeded to fill up my spare to its appropriate pressure and follow me home — at 40 miles per hour – to make sure I made it home okay. I didn’t deserve their kindnesses. Not only did they perform all steps of the needed transaction to get me safely home, but they did not make me feel guilty or inferior for even helpless for needing help. They were gracious and all I could do was accept. I didn’t have the knowledge or strength to do the job on my own, I only had to receive what they freely offered. And that worked out better because I was able to learn to receive help and these men were able to fix the situation and feel a sense of accomplishment in their work. How much better when we rely on each other instead of flying solo!

And that got me thinking about how the guys who helped me gave me an object lesson from God.  Like the “knightly” men did, God freely offers grace. He is strong and loving and cares for his family. He desires to help and see his work carried through to completion. He takes care of those who need help. He loves deeply, understands our weaknesses, and desires us to be dependent upon him, not independent to a fault. He offers grace, our job is to accept it.

My weekend was full of provision in the most unexpected of ways and I am so thankful to all to stepped up and not only dealt with the details of flat tires, but also gave me a beautiful and powerful picture of God’s masculine care for his beloved. The more I thought about the situation, the more I realized that it was the gospel in miniature. That is why I entitled this post: “The Pothole Gospel.” So perhaps I shouldn’t hate car repairs so much after all. They might just be an opportunity to see the gospel in unexpected, every day situations.

Preposterious

Preposterous + Mysterious = Preposterious.

I’ve coined a new word to describe my day.

Even though it’s a Saturday, I had to work. Welcome to my world. I work EVERY Saturday. I’m an Occupational Therapist and I’ve learned that strokes just don’t seem to wait just because it is the weekend. So I worked.

I really enjoy my job. I get to meet people and help them when they’re scared and need comfort. I get to help people be independent and care for themselves again after a catastrophic change. I get to MacGyver things to make it work.

I enjoy my job… but today it was preposterous.

I had a string of interactions which involved people yelling at me for trying to help them. I was cursed at, pushed away, grabbed, pulled, and shoved. I tried to help one gentleman correct his posture while walking so he could look where he was going instead of at his own navel. He told me to mind my own business. And snorted.

I assisted another woman to the restroom to do her business and get cleaned up a little. She “thanked” me by telling me I was ugly and my mother too. No joke. Gee, thanks.

It was preposterous how people were reacting to good meaning offers of assistance and healing. It was mysterious why!

Why were people responding to harshly? Why were my pointers intended to help these people go home and live safely and independently being snubbed? Why were people so difficult?

And then the light when on.

I am just as difficult. I hate accepting help. I want to be the strong one. I want to do it all – by myself. I tantrum like a toddler. Sometimes I fight, push, snub, fuss, fret, and get angry with God. I want to control my own life and story and direction. And that’s not how it works. I think my ways are better. I don’t always see that I’m walking with poor posture. Or about to trip over something. I don’t want help – I think I can do it all. Suddenly the mystery was solved. But the preposterous-ness still remained.

Nov 30, 2012 - Book Review    No Comments

No Angel

I should’ve seen it coming. It IS in the title after all!

No Angel, by Penny Vincenzi is a historical, family drama set in and around World War I. Celia Lytton, the protagonist is a gifted book editor and publishing guru along with her husband, Oliver. This novel follows Celia and her near, extended, and adopted family members through a few decades of drama. I very much enjoyed how this story interacted with historical events. For instance, the family is set to take a trip on the Titanic before one of the children becomes ill delaying the trip and saving numerous lives in the process!

I am a fairly fast reader and I tend to skip some details. I’ve been known to read and think in my head, “That person’s name is the long one that starts with A.” Reading like that doesn’t cut it in this book because there are oodles of characters – family members, friends, significant others, authors! I had to flip back pages a few times to catch myself up on some plot lines. If you can keep names and relationships straight, read on! If you get confused during Green Eggs and Ham, perhaps not!

The title is telling. Celia is no angel. She struggles in life. She wants more, is enraged how WWI affected her life and family, wants to succeed at work, wants to care for her children, and she wants to feel loved. She makes some blunders – both personally and professionally. And she has to live with those consequences. I appreciate Vincenzi’s writing ability here. She can both help me to identify with the desires with drown Celia, but she doesn’t live or write in a rose-colored world where love always wins and no one gets hurt. Celia is no angel, but somehow you cheer for her anyway.

Nov 28, 2012 - Book Review    No Comments

Book Review — Still: Thoughts on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren F. Winner

Middle-age. Middle management. Mid-life crisis. Middle child. Middle school.

Middle doesn’t have that good a reputation.

Beginnings and endings get all the glory, excitement and recognition. But the middle is often overlooked. Which is disheartening because it is where most of the work is done. Middle is about perseverance. About fortitude. About forging steadily onward no matter the obstacles in your path.


Author Lauren Winner discusses the trials of middle in her book, Still, Thoughts on a Mid-Faith Crisis. This book, a collection of disjointed essays portrays the feeling of middle. The stagnant, stillness of the mundane, the everyday. The feeling of dragging through life. She relates her experiences of middle to her marriage. But she doesn’t pull punches or wear rose colored glasses. Winner does not try to portray herself as perfect. In fact, she is far more focused on her own sin than anyone else’s. She is open about her sin and shortcomings, even when it’s painful. She talks about how her marriage started – and how it ended. She discusses the weight of her unhappiness and the wrestling with theology – in which Jesus is clear about his thoughts about divorce. She writes about how she felt through it all.

Winner is a poet. She can see lessons in everything in life from coffee with a friend, to visiting Emily Dickenson’s house. There is no plot in his reflective novel and Winner is clear that it is not a memoir because of its lack of narrative. But through her essays, you are journeying with Winner through her middle. Through her crisis of faith. Through her desire to have hope and worship again.

In that way, it is haunting as I can see myself having similar stages in my Christian journey. I am knowledgeable. I have a Master’s degree in theology. I’ve been at this Christian thing for some time. Am I getting bored? Is that the reason for the spiritual funk in which I find myself?

Winner doesn’t give her readers a conclusion. She wants them to wrestle with their middles.

I’m wrestling with mine. I’m in the middle.

Nov 27, 2012 - Devotional    No Comments

Staying Carbonated

“My marriage just went flat… like a soda.”

A good friend of mine who was going through a divorce poured out his heart to me over sushi and sake several years ago. He told me how his life had changed since his wife left. How all the details from new checking accounts to new addresses had to be ironed out. Then he said something that has always stuck with me, “My marriage just went flat… like a soda.” One day he woke up and there was no more sparkle, pizazz or fizz.

So how do we stay carbonated?

How to we avoid such a fate in marriages and other long-term relationships? How do we not set patterns in relating to one another that slowly loosen the cap of our sodas letting out all the carbonation? I think this can be a common tale. We get busy and make time for everything, but each other. We’ve seen the relationships that seem more like co-habitation than marriage.

Honestly, that terrifies me. Even though I am not married and no where near being married, I am frightened that I could lose my carbonation. I am determined to have good relationships. I want to find ways to be pumping carbon dioxide back into my relational soda! Because, let’s be honest, life is hard. The cares and worries of life choke out our spontaneity our sense of wonder, our excitement with the everyday. Life consistently drains the carbonation from our relationships and our lives.  We must fight to keep the bubbles.

I don’t know exactly how to stay carbonated, but I know it should be my goal.

How about you – how carbonated do you feel right now?

 

Image from: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-TlXK6EcyXdc/UBGkkTQERBI/AAAAAAAAPTw/Nk4auuz8pB4/s1600/soda_can.jpg

Nov 26, 2012 - Quotes    No Comments

Quote-tastic!

Like I’ve said before, I live my life in movie quotes. There’s nary a day goes by that I am not reminded of a situation and –even more importantly– a beautifully crafted line from one of my favorite flicks. I love the craft of writing and have been known to watch a particularly poignant scene over and over again until I get the transcription perfect! Here’s another salivating movie quote to get you in the Christmas mood! (Thankfully, transcription is courtesy of imdb.com!) But comments are all mine!

Arthur Abbott: [Octogenarian and former screenwriter] You know what I’ve been asking myself all night?
Iris: [Young, single Brit transported to L.A. for Christmas and healing from unrequited love!] What? Why I’m bothering you with all these questions?
Arthur Abbott: I’m wondering why a beautiful girl like you would go to a strangers’ house for their Christmas Vacation, and on top of that spend Saturday night with an old cock-up like me.
Iris: Well, I just wanted to get away from all the people I see all the time!… Well, not all the people… one person. I wanted to get away from one… guy.
[she sobs]
Iris: An ex-boyfriend who just got engaged and forgot to tell me.
Arthur Abbott: So, he’s a schmuck.
Iris: As a matter of fact, he is… a huge schmuck. How did you know?
Arthur Abbott: He let you go. This is not a hard one to figure out. Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.
Iris: You’re so right. You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for god’s sake! Arthur, I’ve been going to a therapist for three years, and she’s never explained anything to me that well. That was brilliant. Brutal, but brilliant.

Am I the leading lady of my own life? Do I direct my own paths? How about you?

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