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Thanks for stopping by, whether you got here by a link or hitting "next blog" -- I am glad you are here. I've also done some writing on homeschooling, and what I learned thinking I was teaching.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Coffee and Conflict

Last night I ground some special Christmas coffee, which Doug gave me, prepared and loaded the coffee maker, anticipating a flavorful start to the morning. Today, I pushed the “on” button and went about my business – only to hear an odd gurgling. The good news is I caught the disaster before it spilled down the bottom cabinets; the not so good news is something got plugged up – even though I washed all parts the night before. Somehow, something clogged the valve into the thermos – and my fancy coffee went everywhere but its intended destination!

It was a three-towel mop-up.

Settling down now with coffee in hand, I wonder what the lesson was in the mess?

Soon, I saw an implicit comparison: Thinking I am doing everything “right” doesn’t mean, in fact, I am. Nor does doing my things “right” mean I can control other things – or people. Last night I inadvertently did, or did not do, something that caused the hot coffee to overflow the pot this morning. Maybe, I added a bit too much finely ground coffee? Or, perhaps I did not tighten the thermos lid thoroughly, or I misaligned it? It’s easy to see who ultimately caused the overflow this morning – even though making a mess was not my aim. It was also easy to see that the only choice I had was cleaning up the mess and starting over.

But suppose I had ignored the coffee spill until a more convenient time – or expected Doug to deal with the mess? Really crazy, huh?

Nope – that’s how most of us often deal with conflict if we aren’t blowing our stacks! (And I include Christians!)

Dissension between family and friends is often a little like my coffee debacle – surprising, painful and messy. But, instead of quickly addressing the mess, we try to ignore a conflict – until a more convenient time. Or, we pass the problem off to someone else to solve. Yet the pain of unresolved conflict is just as messy and dangerous as an overflowing pot of hot coffee – and might take more than three towels to clean up!

So, if you suspect something isn’t perking as intended, consider whether you're making peace quickly is as necessary as the need for me stop a hot coffee spill. Peacemaking can be messy. We might get burned. And we may need help doing it. Here’s some help from Scripture:

  • Have you fallen out with someone – because they seem like a jerk? (See Matthew 18:15)
  • Has a relationship cooled for no apparent reason? (See Matthew 5:23-25)
  • Are you convinced you are faultless in a disagreement? (See Luke 21:31-32)
  • Are you a Christian, wanting to reflect Him?   See Matthew 5:9 in the following translations:
  • "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (ESV)
  • “Happy are those who strive for peace-they shall be called the sons of God.” (TLB)
  • "You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.” (THE MESSAGE)
When conflict next erupts, I hope I remember pretending the mess is not my problem is as unwise as letting a coffee maker continue to flood the counter.
Remedy it, or welcome it: a wise man's only two choices. ~The Quote Garden

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas Carol: Have you read it?

Mr. Dickens’ tells  a tale that has  endured 168 years.  It is  an ever fresh analysis about how even the worst of us  can be all be made better with a little supernatural help and our own determination to be and do good.

I first heard it read by Lionel Barrymore on Christmas day, 1956. Settling myself in a comfy chair I put the records on a phonograph just below the 21-inch Philco televison screen. It was late afternoon, and the Christmas tree lights were quite cheery while I listened to a story I didn’t quite grasp.

I grasp it now, forty-three years later, having seen many different productions. And the story never disappoints me; its theme is always a tonic: even the worst of the lot can change in time to do some good for the human race  – whether Scrooge is played by Alastair Sim, Jack Palance, Scrooge McDuck, or, Vanessa Williams.  That was the intention: In his own words, Mr. Dickens
“ . . . endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me.” He wanted it to “. . . haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.”

Wherever it is set, and whenever the story unfolds, the theme is the same: a supernatural intervention in an ornery old person’s life: Ebenezer Scrooge’s.  He – or she, depending on the production – is headed for eternal torment, condemned to wander the earth unable to do the good he or she once might have done – never resting, weighed down by the chains their sins forged in life. A departed associate has been  dispatched to warn the greedy man of affairs; three spirits arrive successively – all knowing a great deal about  Scrooge’s life – former and current. Memories long suppressed confront the Scrooge, forcing him  to judge what he has become. And, then, Scrooge is shown his end – the grave –  unless – he repents; he does. The supernatural intruders succeeded! Scrooge does a one-eighty, and becomes a keeper of Christmas year-round,  helping and serving mankind, who should have been his business his whole life. Death for now is thwarted.

Now, Mr. Dickens doesn’t say exactly who sends the spirits, though he is plain on the purpose of their mission: Scrooge’s welfare, his reclamation on Christmas Eve – the day the church celebrates the birth of Jesus the Christ. Yet, Mr. Dickens did not link  Christ Jesus  to the Scrooge’s transformation. (1 Timothy 1:15) Baptized in the  Anglican church, Mr. Dickens was averse to evangelicalism –  and, alas, apparently aligned himself with Unitarianism for the remainder of his life. (Dickens, Christianity and the Life of our Lord: Humble Veneration, Profound Conviction, By Gary Colledge,  link)

Is Scrooge’s change therefore a humbug? For the Cratchits, his nephew Fred, and 19th century London, surely not! Mr. Dickens stated Scrooge put his life and money where his mouth was:
     “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world . . .  He had no further intercourse with Spirits, . . . and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge . . .”

And England in the mid-19th century needed many charitable hearts and hands – just we do in 21st century America today. (Mark 14:7)

So what am I confessing this Christmas with deeds? (James 2:26)

Maybe that is why A Christmas Carol remains a beloved goad – one I understand more deeply each year as memories of Christmases past haunt me. I confess with my mouth Jesus is Lord; He reclaimed my sin-laden soul.

  •     You intervened in my life though I had not asked – (Ephesians 1:4)
  •     You invited me to a splendid feast, one that destroys the grave! (Isaiah 25:6-8)
  •     And you gave me lavish robes – to cover my wretched rags. (Zachariah 3:4)
  •     In You, I have a hope and a future – far brighter than the Christmas lights in big -D and more real. (Jeremiah 29:11)

What have I done with so great a salvation?

Oh! This season may no one miss the real supernatural power in Christmas because of my deeds. May I be “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a [woman], as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. . .”
God help me to be a woman who walks straight, acts right, and tells the truth.
May I never hurt my friend, or  blame my neighbor.
May I despise the despicable.
May I keep my word even when it costs me, and may I make an honest living, never taking a bribe. (Psalms 15 from THE MESSAGE)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Nothing Like Sunshine . . .

When James Thurber described two kinds of light, he described morning at my desk: “There are two kinds of light - the glow that illumines, and the glare that obscures.” Until recently, the Bradford pears outside our window formed a weathered canopy of golden leaves. Though their mellow  hue was one more reminder of the difference between Dallas and Maryland it has been a pleasure writing at my desk, drinking coffee, and plotting my day. (What a difference a little longitude and latitude makes, huh?)  Within the past few days, however, the remaining leaves cannot shield me from the morning sun. 

The winter light pouring through the  window unsettles  my thought process, such as it is. Squinting, I must shift the position of the computer screen – sometimes losing track of an idea that just emerged! Clearly, I’ll need an earlier start, or a different location.

Nothing like sunshine to rearrange one’s thoughts.

So before  the winter sun disrupts me again – let me commend a verse that warmed my heart last night – especially if the bright lights of Christmas are obscuring your path:

    “Stay always within the boundaries where God's love can reach and bless you. Wait patiently for the eternal life that our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy is going to give you. Try to help those who argue against you. Be merciful to those who doubt.” ( Jude 21-22 TLB)

In all the gifts we give this year, mercy is perhaps the finest – and most costly.  It may mean overlooking some offenses,  giving up a deep hurt, or embracing a discipline we hoped to avoid; being merciful to those who do not deserve out mercy is the best gift we can give – for such was God’s gift to us in His Son.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Painful Memory –

 Comes back this time of year -- It happened over a decade ago.

“If you don’t leave me alone,” the woman snapped at me, “I will report you to the manager!”

My breath lodged in my throat while my soul recoiled from the slap of her angry words. A few minutes before, the woman’s coughing spasms interrupted my shopping, so, I  offered her a cough drop. When she curtly refused with anger, and I mumbled  an explanation: “I thought you were in distress. . .” And so she spoke sharply to me.

I stood for only a moment before quickly replacing the items I was considering, and fled the store.  Silent judgment overcame compassion and I headed for the door. Silent  indignation fueled my flight. “How dare she speak to me like that!” I fumed. I was vexed, offended, and resented her disdain. She treated me like I was . . . like I was some pestering vagrant!

The December night’s air smacked my flushed cheeks, shaking me lose from my gripe. That’s how I had sounded, not twenty minutes before, when I flounced myself out of the house for one last errand before Christmas: buying a gift in Christ’s name  for some poor child.

Now able to breathe, I was still  unable to pray whole-heartedly for that hostile woman. Our words were different, but our attitudes were too similar:  “Don’t mess with me! I got all this extra work because of this lousy season.”     

Peace on earth – Good will to men upon God’s favor rests.

O Lord! I whispered. You asked me to go a little further, work a bit longer, and then endure a simple insult. I don’t have to die for anyone’s selfishness; I must die to my own. And I can’t master my emotions when You give me an opportunity to sip from the cup Jesus took. (Hebrews 12:1-6)

O Lord, I am a beast! When I remember what You have promised, I am ashamed I dropped Your standards, first to my family and then to a stranger whose hurting heart ruined her poise. (Psalm 73)

Merry Christmas, to those who know not the One who can release them from the chains that stumble them. He is come!

And to the Christian troops, who are weary, bearing many insults, trials and tribulations  – Merry Christmas!

God is keeping a list; whether He checks it twice, I do not know. And we don’t want anyone, even our worst enemy to be on that list! However,  HE knows who’s been naughty and nice. He of whom the angels proclaimed is come and is coming again. (Matthew 25) He promises a crown to those who overcome – May we overcome our momentary afflictions,  for HIS glory and enjoy the great reward He plans for us.

Love in Christ,
bwsmith  

A PS from this year: Thank you God for our armed forces who serve so I might worship and serve you.

Reconnecting to My Childhood.

Because of the internet I found a friend, one with whom I played as a little girl. We played with our dolls, we invented games about being mommies, teachers – and Dale Evans – Roy Rogers’ faithful friend; we shared meals, birthday parties, neighbors, games, dolls . . . she knew people who are now just blessed memories to me. Somewhere along the line, though, we went different ways and lost track of each other – almost fifty years ago!

A lot of water goes under a bridge in that amount of time. A lot of buried treasure, too. But with a few clicks of a mouse, I can go back and think about people and places that all contributed a bit to who I am today. Imprecise recollections surfaced these past few days – stirring memories, creating questions about  “what if . . .?

Born to parents who lived through the depression and several wars, I grew up with an older brother in a modestly prosperous community, Stoneleigh, adjacent to a bustling city, Baltimore. Neighbors, playmates, teachers, aunts, uncles, cousins, lifeguards, shopkeepers, crushes: How did these dear people, whose stories I will never fully know, influence me? Or, I, them?  I never stopped to think as I rushed ahead toward the life I have now, not mindful of how lovely parts of  each day was.

Oh! How I understand Emily Gibb’s aching question to the Stage Manager in Our Town: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?”

For all the better choices I might have made, I am glad to be where I am just now – humbled that I am where I am – just for today – free to enjoy what I never deserved. And could never had earned even if I never made a bad decision.

. . . GOD is sheer mercy and grace; not easily angered, he's rich in love.
He doesn't endlessly nag and scold, nor hold grudges forever.

He doesn't treat us as our sins deserve, nor pay us back in full for our wrongs.

As high as heaven is over the earth, so strong is his love to those who fear him.

 And as far as sunrise is from sunset, he has separated us from our sins. . .
(Ps 103:8-12 from THE MESSAGE)

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Faulty Faucet

Eleven o’clock on a Saturday night  is not the easiest time to find a willing, competent plumber – but we tried a referral, one whose recorded message promised a call-back in a few minutes.   

The hot water in our shower would not shut off last night – in a newly remodeled bathroom. We had installed new fixtures, but some of the stems upon which the bright and shiny brass and porcelain knobs rested were old – indeed, worn out.  The stems were not visible. A crack caused a screw to slip, and a washer fell off, meaning no matter which direction I turned the knob, hot water pulsed through. And no turn-off was readily apparent – meaning the only cut off was in the adjacent alley, under a manhole, close to the fence. Douglas bundled up, for the temperature had dropped to 27 degrees, and valiantly stopped the flow of water.

While he struggled to cut off the water, I quickly filled up a water jug, prepared the morning  coffee, and filled the bathtub so we might flush the toilets. And we settled down awaiting a jingle on the phone. By 12:45 A.M., we gave up and went to bed. At 8:00 A.M. the plumber called, set an appointment, and came, discovering the problem, and fixing it with some new stems and washers.

The simple motion, turning off a faucet, was thwarted. A good thing, hot water, became scalding and harmful because of an aging piece of hardware, hidden from view finally wore out. And one faulty faucet meant shutting down all running water. No running water changes a lot -- stopping many things, anything that I had not made provision for before the water ceased to flow. 

Christ said water was to flow out of me – living water. (John 7:38-39) But sometimes, what comes out of my heart and mouth is as unsafe as that scalding hot water, and the cause may be as  unanticipated as that corroded faucet stem – that cracked under heat and persistent turning. Intemperate speech can also shut down all kinds of things as surely as Doug shut off the water to the house. Unfortunately there is no advance preparation for such a debacle the way I provided for the inconvenience of no running water.  I have scalded other people with my tongue. The only provision I have is that there is a Balm. (Jeremiah 8:22)

The plumber replaced the damaged pieces, turned the water back on, and now the shower turns on and off again – the water’s temperature easily moderated because he reset the temperature on the water heater. What comes from me also can be moderated, though I can’t see or know the stuff in my heart. My heart “. . .  is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out.” ( Jeremiah 17:9  from THE MESSAGE )

Grace rests the gauge on my emotions when I remember these things and act:
    God did not die and leave me in charge. “You grab a mad dog by the ears when you butt into a quarrel that's none of your business.” (Proverbs 26:17 from THE MESSAGE )

    God gave me Scripture to get at the corroded corners in my heart and soul. “Who can discern his lapses and errors? Clear me from hidden [and unconscious] faults.” (Psalm 19:12 AMP)

    God has a purpose in my speech. “ When she speaks she has something worthwhile to     say, and she always says it kindly.( Proverbs 31:26 from THE MESSAGE )
"[S]he who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From [her] innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'"  (John 7:38-39)