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.

Monday, September 29, 2014

And Now for a Music Review

They led the morning worship, and returned to perform in an evening concert – a two and one-half hour  performance. Shortly into the evening’s concert, it dawned on me, this might just be a tiny taste of heaven – albeit a spoonful.

According to Tim Zimmerman, the leader, the venue was a great aid in making beautiful music;  the sanctuary is brass-friendly, and the artists were able to surround us with music from the stage, the sides and from an upper balcony; what’s more,  they liked the organ at Park Cities Presbyterian Church, Dallas. 

If heaven is for real – and I hope it is -- than the concert was a delicious foretaste brimming with joy, joviality and reflection; plus, masterful music:  Worship led by musicians who literally surrounded us with trumpets and other brass and percussion, inviting us to join in, expressing our love of God.  Their joy was infectious, and their stamina, splendid.  If you missed it, you missed a good meal! 

Here's a taste -- Enjoy!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Reality Check – What’s in My Hand?

One-liners can hook an imagination quickly. I heard one in a new movie “My Old Lady.”  It went deep – eviscerating excuses I am prone to make:

When you follow your own heart, you break someone else’s. (Matthias Gold, character in My Old Lady)

We bought tickets thinking we would see one thing, and realized soon into it, the movie would not be a romantic comedy, salted with caustic comments by a French Dowager Countess. A reviewer, who did not like the movie as much as we did, wrote:

There are numerous other surprise revelations, unveiled truths, and domestic connections to come in Horovitz’s narrative as he swerves away from what feels at first like farce and heads in the direction of intense melodrama as he examines problematic family relationships resulting from damaging parental decisions and self-serving behaviors. (Bill Wine’s Review)

As the movie took a turn into people’s personal pain, we got a look at the cost of adultery that children end up paying. In the case of the characters in this tale, it’s steep.

Sometimes, perhaps because of the season my life, I spend time looking back – reflecting on who did what to whom, and how it all affected me. (A.K.A. pity party) Seriously. I’d do better being sobered by how some of my choices may have influenced people in my sphere of responsibilities!

I guess that’s why that one-liner snagged me.  Following your heart hurt me – but my following my own heart . . . well, those were the days my friend . . .

Fortunately, a favorite fellow blogger closed her thoughts with a poem that is sound counsel, and gets me energized:  

It’s by the poet Hafiz:

Once a young woman said to me, “Hafiz, what
is the sign of someone who knows God?”
I became very quiet, and looked deep into her
eyes, then replied
“My dear, they have dropped the knife. Someone
who knows God has dropped the cruel knife
that most so often use upon their tender self
and others.”

Three little words – Drop the knife! Shouted or whispered, they are worth remembering -- and doing!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A New Ironing Board Cover

I inherited an ironing board . . . well, Doug snagged it from the “estate” sale of his mom’s former home, and he knew we’d need one in the coming months we thought we’d be spending in Dallas. (He irons, too)

Somehow the idea of living in a home, no matter how long, without an ironing board seemed . . . decadent -- and dangerous.  I mean you can keep house without a dishwasher – but without an ironing board? No – it’s too risky ironing on the unmade bed like I did in college, burning holes in the sheets  . . .  not good. 

A few months have become several years, and having an ironing board has been a good thing.  Not that we do that much ironing. However, I noticed the green ironing cover was wearing thin. I thought the only replacement choice was another dull silvery gray cloth that could be tricky to secure properly.

But no!

Now I could choose for an array of color, patterns, and best of all, the new varieties -- from India -- are a forgiving, stretchy fit.  Attaching it, I felt cheered up, gazing upon the pretty, puffy cover, all tightly fitting over the fraying tired green cloth.

Then I realized all the energy I absorbed from the insanely bright design had not diminished the pile of ironing.

I am thankful for a lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning and gutters that need fixing because it means I have a home.... I am thankful for the piles of laundry and ironing because it means my loved ones are nearby. ~Nancie J. Carmody 

My second favorite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint. ~Erma Bombeck

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Christians Who Mess Up Drive Me Nuts

“Is it possible that God has called us into this work so that we might pray,” Diane Mandt Langberg asks? ( In Our Lives First: Meditations for Counselors,   p.13) She writes for counselors who work with people whose problems are many and varied, tragic and deeply troubling. Given the failures in the church, I can see why the professional counselors who serve so many hurting hearts are in need of revival for themselves.  If they would lead others out of their darkness into spiritual health, the counselors must live what they recommend.

Me, too.

These meditations are having a restorative influence in my thinking, and I commend this volume, especially if it’s beginning to dawn on you that life is hard, and people we care about often behave very badly – too often in the church!

Our intercession can cover far more people and situations than we can ever help in the literal sense . . . It is in the process of interceding that God’s purpose and wise order is brought about in this world. ” (p. 14)

First, in my own life – for when I turn my mind and heart to prayer for people I love –and not just toss out some rote lines – I see stuff in me that may be contributing to relationship problems. And I recognize how lame my love for them can be.

Second, praying revives my faltering faith. Too many times a day I wander into the pastures of, “Gee, doesn’t universalism (or humanism, or non-belief or skepticism)  sound like a better coping mechanism than the conviction that God is?” (Exodus 3:15; John 8:58) But just coping can’t be all there is to living, can it?

On some days . . . yes it is.

On other days – I don’t want to just cope, I want to live every moment I have left; and I want to help others enjoy their lives. Prayer reminds me to let go and let God do for them exceedingly, abundantly more than I could ask or imagine. He didn’t die and leave me in charge!

When my cousin told her mother that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, my aunt told me that she became furious with God, whom she not wholly believed existed. As she railed against this God, whom she had doubts about, giving Him "what for" for doing this to her daughter – she caught herself:  If He is real enough to get angry at, maybe He is real enough to hear my prayers? And she prayed.

Finally, praying to the God who hears and invites me to pray, and through this mystery, gives nourishment, strength and guidance. (pp. 14-15) Some days we get slammed with news of Christians behaving badly that is as grim and heartbreaking as receiving a diagnosis of cancer. (If the church is to be Christ’s representatives on earth, no wonder so many people answer None when asked if they have a faith!)

 Like my aunt, I stumble in anger, doubt and fear, not so much at world events, but when Christians blow it.  Worse, I am tempted to judge, dismiss, or rail at others for being so stupid, contemptible, crass, or weak – actions that would lead me right onto a dangerous slippery slope. (Matthew 5:22)

Prayer to the God who hears is the guardrail restraining my heart.  It is the response that expands my hope that life has a purpose and meaning that is beyond “They lived happily Ever after.”   

I turn again to Psalm 116, and hang onto the guardrails of grace – during a very bumpy ride, where my pride goes before many falls.   

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

September 11 – Anticipation and Remembrance

from Chick and Ruth's Deli 
A little proverb warns, “Never look back unless you want to go that way.”  While I can see its wisdom – driving with my eyes on the rear-view mirror is a sure way to crash the car – I opened the spiral journal notebook I kept from June through December 2001.

I have kept journals since 1989.  Back then, a friend, Nina Martin, urged me to try “journaling” as an exercise to keep in step with all God was doing. She was right. Not that any of my journals could propel me into a list of prominent diarists; they do show God’s faithfulness in the good times and those not so good times; they also show God’s forbearance in my faithlessness.  Given that some have said we are in a war that may well continue through this century*  – what do I see from back then, that helps today?

 In the weeks leading up to that Tuesday in September of 2001, I was busy, worried, and distracted.  Oh, I was definitely in my Martha - mode, deeply persuaded I could manage all that was on my plate – and confident of my own understanding of many things. I was rereading The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer, and the sermon that Sunday before 9/11/01 was taken from 2 John – the gist of it was love must-needs be informed by truth, and truth controlled by love. 

Looking back, through the lens of thirteen years of wars with Islamic extremists, pursuing God is still hard, and I still need  the Apostle John’s warning:

-- I am writing to remind you, dear friends,  that we should love one another. This is not a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning. Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning.
I say this because many deceivers have gone out into the world. They deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body. Such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked so hard to achieve. Be diligent so that you receive your full reward. Anyone who wanders away from this teaching has no relationship with God. But anyone who remains in the teaching of Christ has a relationship with both the Father and the Son.

Why do I want to relive the days leading up to and after 9/11/01?  I don’t want to forget.  I want to remember how quickly life changes.

I never want to forget the people who died, the first responders, and the folks who lived through being attacked.   And I don’t want to take for granted the ongoing suffering of our Armed Forces. If the memory of 9/11/01 is burned into my brain – images from television – what is in their heart and mind after multiple deployments into combat? 

And I don’t want to forget the question a friend asked – You are religious, how could God have allowed this?

It still has something to do with the unfolding story of an infinite, personal God – a battle in the heavenlies, beyond our awareness, and one that is a manifestation of God’s  last confrontation with a defeated foe, whose powers are real. 

Nor, do I want to forget the resolve of Islamic radicals.

What has changed in these thirteen years, is that those who embrace Christ in the Middle East are being martyred for their faithfulness –as are thousand and thousands of other human beings who do not believe in the Islamic religion of an expanding and powerful force, feared to be international in its reach. 

I actually thought in those early days of September I understood what suffering was like.

I did not.

It’s one thing to join the moving chorus of “Lift High the Cross” in the safety of a crowded sanctuary, it’s another to read that people have been  crucified even this summer! The threat we face now  gives a whole new meaning to Christ’s question, “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29; Matthew 16:10; Luke 9:20)

And those who could commit such cruelty, are they the ones I am to love?

So I have prayed this: "Father, please turn these oppressors from evil, to You. Also, please destroy those of them who refuse to turn. May we who are blessed with freedom do our best to protect and defend their intended victims and provide them safe haven." (This Is a Test)


 * Former Australian army chief Peter Leahy recently called this “the early stages of a war which is likely to last for the rest of the century. We must be ready to protect ourselves and, where necessary, act pre-emptively to neutralize the evident threat. Get ready for a long war.” (Michael Gerson, This War Will Look Familiar)  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Summer Reading – Some Worthwhile Conversations

Books were great traveling companions – and just as with many human companions, one conversation was occasionally interrupted by the unexpected arrival of a new friend. Translated: I am still working through a stack! But I finished six biographies: one of an English queen; then, a 1930’s English kitchen maid; next, a White House usher; followed by a baseball legend; a late blooming EMT, and a wife who watched her husband descend into dementia. So, I had some nifty adventures!*

Biography and history – especially those that enable us to get the big picture, while empathizing with the people for whom hard times were personal – are a good use of time for readers, old and young. And, some of the better the more interesting companions were books written for young people.  Searching for books to give our grandchildren, I was introduced to three books that have both refreshed and impressed me: Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood; The Good Fight: How World War II was Won and The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, Graphic Edition. A fourth book, Candy Bombers: The Story of Berlin’s Airlift’s “Chocolate Pilot” is a introduction to a seemingly forgotten recent demonstration of American courage, compassion and flying skills. * 

Each, I commend, for their simplicity, profundity, and plain old good writing – recounting how people made it through very dark times.

In Leaving China, author James McMullan recalled and illustrated his memories of leaving China because of the incursion of the Japanese in the 1930’s. Through simple, stunning paintings and succinct words the book he looks back through a child’s eyes, and I could see the life changed for a young boy and his family living in China in the 1930’s. It is  a tale simple enough for children to grasp the uncertainty and heartache of a pending war, and poignant for adults who know the history of how World War II unfolded in China and the world. 

Leaving China makes personal and understandable a part of  the worldwide suffering that The Good Fight: How World War II was Won outlines for younger history buffs.  Stephen Ambrose’s words are few but powerful; his timeline and maps are very useful and the photographs are moving. Some pictures are timeless testimonies to the dreadful cost World War II exacted – such as a child crying after a Japanese bombing raid (p. 11) and two children beholding the French city of St. Lo after its liberation by the Americans. (p.48) Others, to the bravery and suffering of those whose stories we may never know. 

Sixty to eighty-five million people died in this cataclysm – depending on how their deaths are reckoned. If every soul could have written their own story, where would we house their books? How many books would we be able to read, especially since Americans are reading fewer books? (A Snapshot of Reading in America --2013)

Amity Shlaes’ The Forgotten Man, the graphic edition, is appropriate for teens, and readers who enjoyed Ms Shlaes’ 2007 work by the same name. It is a useful way to get into the causes of the world-wide depression in the 1930’s, that is often cited as a causing the economic conditions that fueled Japan’s militarism, Italy  and Germany’s fascism and the spread of communism; we see sad truths illustrated, through the leaders, and the rich and powerful – and the forgotten man – The man who pays. The man who prays. The man who is never thought of. (p.292)

·      Books are the compasses and telescopes and sextants and charts which other men have prepared to help us navigate the dangerous seas of human life. ~Jesse Lee Bennet, educator and author

(*Doug recommends the following for grown-ups Daring Young Men: The Heroism and Triumph of The Berlin Airlift-June 1948-May 1949, by Richard Reeves)

* Completed Conversations

·      The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir

·      Minding the Manor: The Memoir of a 1930s English Kitchen Maid by Mollie Moran -- Recalling her encounters with the upper classes and royalty, and those who served them, Mollie Moran shows us the demise of the class system that so intrigues “Downton Abbey” addicts, and the rise of the British resolve that endured five more years of war.

·      Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by J. B. West, Mary Lynn Kotz (Mrs. Roosevelt through Mrs. Nixon)

·      I Never Had It Made: An Autobiography of Jackie Robinson by Alfred Duckett, Jackie Robinson – fills out the details of a brave man’s life, his success and deep sorrows.

·      We Keep Our Potato Chips in the Refrigerator: A Memoir of an Alzheimer's Victim [NOOK Book] by Patricia Cox

·      Ambulance Girl by Jane Stern – “. . . in helping others I learned to help myself . . . and I learned I could face what scared me in life.”

Friday, September 5, 2014

Cramped Seats

Bill Gates observed that, “[T]he Wright Brothers created the single greatest cultural force since [the invention of] writing.  The airplane became the first World Wide Web, bringing people, languages, ideas, and values together.”  Apparently, though, an increasing number of passengers don’t see air transportation through rose-colored glasses.  Many of us don’t like it when reconfigured planes rob us of our personal space. A recent Dallas Morning News  front-page article recounted some nasty little set-tos, so nasty that planes were diverted! ( Travelers Flying into Rages Over Cramped Seats)

And I might have starred in that article, but for some deep breathing on our last flight home.
The flight was packed full on the first leg of our journey.  A young couple with an energetic, talkative little boy scrunched into the seats just ahead of us. His chatter reminded me of other recent conversations we’d been part of  while visiting our grandchildren in Maryland. As the parents in the seats in front of us quietly addressed their son’s incessant comments and questions, I liked their calm skill. But, my good will evaporated when the father reclined his seat, robbing me of the “space” to use my tray table without bonking my head on the back of the seat. Shades of four years ago!  (Seriously?)

Seething barely captures my reaction. What to do?  How do you tap a stranger on the shoulder nowadays and plead your own discomfort, especially if the strangers appear not to speak English?  Mercifully, I remembered that a better way is to breathe  deeply, sensing that others might watch how I reacted to an infringement, and that my comfort is not the only priority in a crowded cabin.  So, I did not slam my hands onto the back of the offender’s seat, complaining loudly of the thoughtless pursuit of his own comfort.   

But, come to think of it, it’s not solely the fault of the passenger who used the feature:
. . . people can be forgiven for thinking that if the seat is engineered to go back, then it’s a reasonable thing to do . . . Think of you and your fellow passengers as being on a lifeboat- you’re all in a bad situation-the best you can do is to help one another. (Miss Manners on Flight Etiquette)

So, the airlines – once purveyors of comfy travel experiences, even on a shuttle between DC and NYC – are putting their passengers in a kind of peril that was undreamed of when C. R. Smith of American Airlines

“ . . . published an advertisement entitled "Why Dodge This Question: Afraid To Fly?" in 1934.  Airline Safety had been a taboo subject at the time, and Smith was credited with being the first airline manager to discuss it openly with the public.”

Mr. Smith also said his company’s goal was getting people out of cars and trains in the early decades of passenger travel and by making air travel as comfortable and more so than the traditional modes. Hmmmmm. A tart description of current conditions explains what many of us are opting to drive: “That the flights are frequently jam-packed and the air terminals have the ambience of a North Korean hotel and the comfort of a mammogram” (The Down-Side of Reclining)

Flight has inspired people to create an industry that has revolutionized the way we view our lives   radically as the invention of writing changed us – yet the magic of soaring 35,000 feet above the earth is dispelled by the cattle-car experience flying has become. The industry seems unable to think beyond the bottom line, and the passengers who now rely on the airlines are captive to all the economies the industry imposes.  

Now, come on airlines . . . put your thinking caps on! Your passengers don’t need one more excuse to lose our charm on our air journeys – or fall out with fellow travelers! Is it too late to reinvent some of the wonder of climbing high, and enjoying a perspective on this old world our ancestors thought impossible?

·      The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who, in their grueling travels across trackless lands in prehistoric times, looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space, at full speed, above all obstacles, on the infinite highway of the air.  ~Wilbur Wright

* Cartoon  Source

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Why I Avoid Crepes

It’s not their calories!

Many years ago, I met a friend at a popular creperie in downtown Annapolis. There, I received an object lesson that still goes off like a smoke alarm in a grease fire every time I wonder if I should say something to a friend about something they are doing that bugs me.  And when I see a crepe, back in time I go to a Friday night in a crowded restaurant.

That Friday night my friend called and said we had to talk, could I meet her right now?  The urgency in her voice made me risk getting out on an icy January night, and leave two sick children in my willing husband’s care.  I came because I thought she wanted to talk about stuff that might have been weighing her down.

We settled into our seats in one of the town’s most popular and tightly packed restaurants. So many conversations swirled around us, it was hard to hear, but I waited for her to open the conversation.

Surprise, then mortification overwhelmed me, however, when she declared in a loud voice that she could no longer hide her concern for me – she knew I was in deep emotional water, and about to do something really stupid.

The diners on either side of us ceased chatting and eating, and I was aware of their uncomfortable silence.

I couldn’t respond – Months of memories of our family’s recent troubles, troubles I had kept private, swirled in my brain, choking off any kind of conversation. (Caring for parents, running our own business, raising two kids – man, I had felt good about just putting one foot in front of the other!) 

For several minutes, all I could do was stammer, “You are wrong – you are wrong,”

She disagreed, at full volume; the lecture continued. I heard only a fraction, some of which sounded true – but my tears drowned my hearing.

After several more paralyzing moments, I struggled out of the narrow booth and table —and I headed for the door.

Eyes stinging – and gulping in wintry air, I made it to my car, and drove home, followed by an Annapolis police car. The officers noticed I was driving without lights . . . Oh great! When Doug met me at the door, they decided to give me a pass.

Then I tried to recall what she said, but, all I remembered was, you are doing everything wrong – and you are going to screw-up big time.

Fast forward a few more years, and she called, again asking me to meet her and I accepted, warily. We had not talked since that night. So, at another French restaurant, but one whose tables were more generously spaced, she explained why she did what she did.  It was for my own good – and she was glad she’d done it – and one day I would thank her. I tried telling her how I remembered the evening.  It didn’t go well.  Nor, did my gratitude abound.

Given time, though, and being shown a better way to engage people who are upsetting me, I can see some plusses coming from that wintery fiasco.  At least I know what it feels like to be confronted by a friend who saw something amiss and spoke up.  

Did I need a reality check? Probably  -- I still don’t handle stress well. God only knows what I projected to this woman thirty years ago!

Would I have heard her concern more clearly if we were sitting alone, without half of downtown Annapolis listening?  I hope I would have . . . but the human heart is funny thing – and prideful and foolish are still adjectives that can be used to describe me. How about you, gentle reader?

Yes, I admit I am grateful my friend showed me what public chastisement feels like -- it’s a wee bit different than a private offer to share a burden. And I am grateful she showed me that I will never be so right that I don’t own a part of the pain that can spring up and separate friends, even those with the best motives.

Christ taught His disciples how to have difficult conversations, when others are wronging or worrying us. (Matthew 18:15; Galatians 6:1-2) The bottom line is do it privately – humbly, and one on one. It may or may not work out. So, if you need to talk to me, about your concerns for me, I will listen – but not in a place that serves crepes.