28 December 2010

Welcome to the world, Baby Girl!

My newest granddaughter, Emery Esther Madden, was born tonight just a little bit ago.  I don't have many details yet but mother, daughter, dad, and big sister are all doing well.  Grandma is all verklempt :).

26 December 2010

"Silent" Monks Singing Hallelujah

I saw this video on another site and thought it was really cute :).  The "story" is that these monks have taken a vow of silence but have found themselves caught in a quandry:  the Bible says to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.  How do they do that without violating their vows?  This video is the "monks" on tour with their solution.  (This is a thing that apparently made the rounds of several churches' and schools' Christmas services/concerts a few years ago but these kids seemed to be having the most joy with it.)

25 December 2010

Sing, All Ye Citizens of Heaven Above

The picture below is my Dad on one of the many motorhome trips he loved to take.  Christmas was his holiday.  He loved everything about it.  He loved searching for the perfect gifts for his wife, children and grandchildren.  He loved presiding over the turkey during the family meal and leading the family prayer.  He loved watching everyone open presents and taking pictures with his camera.  And he took great joy in being part of his church choir and being in the Christmas service every year.  He loved singing and he loved singing as a celebration of Jesus. 

The Spousal Unit and I went to our first Christmas Eve service in about ten years (our previous churches were a biker bar and a mixed martial arts gym so not so much on the traditional) and it was really nice; one of the best services I've ever been to.  Still, singing some of the more traditional hymns made me tear up a bit because I kept thinking that if I looked out of the corner of my eye, I might just catch my Dad in his choir robes and singing along, singing his heart out, singing in joy.

Merry Christmas, Dad.  I still miss you so much.

23 December 2010

Beatitudes: Grace

I'm reading another Yancey book as part of my devotional (The Jesus I Never Knew) and was finishing up Chapter 7, in which Yancey continues to discuss various aspects of Jesus' message in the Beatitudes.  The thrust of this chapter was the offensive nature of the Beatitudes since it seems to outline a standard of living that is impossible for anyone to live up to.

I was reading along when I came to a particular sentence that stopped me in my tracks.  I had to go back and read it again and then I had to go grab my highlighter and mark it (because there are days my brain is like Swiss cheese and I have a better shot of finding something if I mark it than if I assure myself I will remember the page/chapter where I read it).  Yancey has just finished comparing and contrasting Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in order to highlight the difference between ideals and grace when he writes "Grace is absolute, inflexible, all-encompassing.  It extends even to the people who nailed Jesus to the cross:  'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing' were among the last words Jesus spoke on earth."

This is the part I had to go back and re-read:  Grace is inflexible.  I don't think I'd ever seen it put quite like that before and I started thinking.  How much easier is it to offer grace to someone who shows repentance for their actions?  How much easier might it be to offer to pray for someone who has hurt a friend or family member by their actions because of a prior relationship you may have had with that person and you may have insight into their problems?

That sentence...grace is inflexible.  It says to me that grace doesn't work on a sliding scale.  We need to remember that the same grace extended to the outwardly repentant soul needs to remain on tap to the outwardly unrepentant soul for the moment they realize their thirst.  It doesn't mean that the unrepentant person gets off scot-free (although it may definitely seem like it at the time) since actions have consequences and those consequences must be dealt out fairly depending on the severity of the situation.  But how many of us - myself included - have simply put someone out-of-sight-out-of-mind...stopped praying for someone...because what they did was, to us, unforgiveable and they just didn't care?

I don't know.  I mean, this is something I'm still figuring out for myself - partially because God knocked me upside the head with a clue-by-four about two months ago and told me he wanted me to start praying for a particular person.  Now, I don't like this person.  I don't like what they did and I don't like what they've done since then.  The damage from their acts has been great.  It's like what you see when you throw a stone in the water:  the ripples just keep spreading further and further.  I haven't even talked to this person since it happened and I don't intend to. 

But there was God one morning settling down next to me and my caramel latte.  *zealously guards caramel latte*

God:  "Hey, I want you to start praying for this person."

Me:  "Really?  I don't suppose this would be an example of your sense of humor this time, either?"

God:  "No.  As before, my sense of humor remains excellent.  However, I am, once again, making a serious request."

Me:  "Oh boy."  (please use correct Sam Beckett 'Quantum Leap' tone)

And...I'm trying to pray for this person.  Some days it really sucks and I don't want to think about the grace that is there should they choose to avail themselves of it 'cause...you know, they hurt people.  Badly.  They hurt my friends.  They wreaked havoc.  And I have to pray for this person?  Send up the "it's not fair!" whine.

And then I get to the end of the chapter and the clue-by-four pretty much smacks me between the eyes.  So it's not fair I "have" to pray for this person but, considering sin is sin and there is no hierarchy (i.e., no one sin is worse than another), it's perfectly fair that I can accept grace for all my crapola and move on?  Yeah, errrr....*cough*.  Hypocrisy, would you like some cheese with that whine? 

Yancey writes, "Thunderously, inarguably, the Sermon on the Mount proves that before God we all stand on level ground: murderers and temper-throwers, adulterers and lusters, thieves and coveters.  We are all desperate, and that is in fact the only state appropriate to a human being who wants to know God.  Having fallen from the absolute Ideal, we have nowhere to land but in the safety net of absolute grace."

I guess grace can make ripples too.

22 December 2010

Despicable Me

It's so fluffy!

(and I still have another week off from work!  Fear...)

16 December 2010

Water for Elephants Official Trailer

Loved the book.  So going to see the movie even though Robert Pattinson is playing Jake.  The first person that shouts "Edward!" at the screen gets it...:P.

13 December 2010

Things Best Left Unseen

There are certain things that, when driving into work, are best left unseen.  They would be:

1.  The woman directly behind me putting on her makeup using the rearview mirror.  I had always heard of this legendary tale yet never seen it for myself, yet there she was behind me, straining up to her right to get that perfect rearview mirror angle so critical for the proper application of mascara.  And blush...can't forget the blush.  Never mind the two freeway on-ramps we're rapidly approaching at 70 miles an hour.  Oh no. Blending is much more important.

2.  Reading a book propped up on the steering wheel while driving.  Really?  Here's a clue:  Dumbledore dies.  The Fellowship wins.  Bella is still a completely passive, immature twit and Edward is a stalker sparklepire.  If you really can't wait to find out what happens, can you at least wait until the stoplight?

3.  Driving directly behind someone whose license plate reads "BLIND".  No.  Just...no.

01 December 2010

Lessons in Attitude Adjustment, Part III

...continued from Part I and Part II

(I have this horrible urge to start off with either "In our last episode..." or "As you know, Bob...".  Must...resist!)

So, going back to Yancey's subchapter Checklist for Healing in his book on prayer, I've written about three of the four questions and how I felt they related to my husband and I when God called us to something that was rather unexpected.  The first three questions were:  (1) Am I expecting a miracle as an entitlement?, (2) Am I using the benefits of God's "common grace", and (3) Do I wrongly blame God for causing the suffering?

The fourth question Yancey lists is this:  Am I prepared for the possibility that physical healing may not take place?  He further writes "In its most detailed passages on suffering, the New Testament moves the emphasis to what we can learn from the difficulty and the good that can be produced."  Yeah, all that character-building I was talking about in Part II?  That comes into play here.  While the Bible does have stories of people who were miraculously healed of their ailments, it also contains stories and accounts from those who were not or mentions others, for example, in their letters to the churches but there is no followup, no postscript to note the healing that had taken place.  Paul himself prayed regarding a "thorn in his flesh".  There is some debate on whether the "thorn" was physical or not but, if it was, there is no mention of it ever being healed and this was a guy who was regarded as one of the greatest apostles.  If anyone had been "deserving" of healing, surely Paul would have been a contender.  And if it had been a physical illness or infirmity that was healed, I'm thinkin' someone might have mentioned it.  I mean, dude.  Seriously.  Paul.

Okay...yanking this back to the topic at hand?  This is an outcome with which the Spousal Unit and I had to get comfortable.  Not comfortable in that nice La-Z-Boy recliner kind of way (which would have been a lot easier) but comfortable in the sense of understanding and acknowledging that we had absolutely no control over the coffee shop and what God wanted to do with it.  We had deeded it over to Him in a sense so, really, we were working for Him versus owning a coffee shop.  We continued to pray, we continued to fire our requests and wants at God because we should always be knocking on the door or, more fitting in my case, working on that submission hold :).  But the prime request became for God to help us get out of our own way - that we wouldn't become so worried or consumed about funds, et cetera, that we would lose sight or miss an opportunity in the meantime.  This was where I think I really started to get under the skin of the idea of prayer and discover more what it is meant to be rather than the dry exercise it appears to be.

And God wants our requests.  He knows the motives by which we pray and persistence in prayer is part of spiritual growth.  A lot of people will offer up the last half of a C.S. Lewis quote on prayer as the reason we should pray:  "It doesn't change God - it changes me."   However, I think the entire quote is much more indicative of what happens when we start honestly pursuing God in prayer, seeking Him, importuning Him, and yeah, even yelling at Him:  "I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping.   It doesn't change God - it changes me."  Being determined or (let's face it) stubborn in prayer brings me closer to God in a more honest way than reciting a litany of prayers learned in Sunday School or at my parents' knee.  By being flat-out honest with God about what's going on and how I feel about it, I learn what it feels like to be able to pass along my burdens, so to speak, to someone who is waaaaaaay more qualified to handle them than me.  The money issues, the other things, the employees...they were still there but I felt like someone else understood and was watching those things as well once the Spousal Unit and I really started digging into praying.  God is definitely "trouble shared is trouble halved".  'Cause honestly, who else can handle taking on all your crap like the Creator of the Universe?

Also, praying got my focus off of me and what I felt was important.  It's not that God doesn't think our problems have merit or that He doesn't take us seriously; however, sometimes we can become so consumed with what we think we need or what we think is missing or what we think should happen or how God should solve a particular problem, that we can lose sight of the fact that our viewpoint is not necessarily God's viewpoint.  Because humans exist in a linear timeframe, we may think we know what we need because we are used to thinking in the immediate or the short term. What will solve my current problem right now?  God, who exists outside time and space, truly does know what we need since His picture is much, much broader.

Serious, persistent prayer (angry, pleading, questioning, or even just talking) shifts the focus of the person  doing the praying.  It may be quick or it may be so gradual you really don't notice it until you think about it months down the line.  Prayer brings us more into line with what God wants to do and my role in that scenario.  I know I'm probably rambling at ths point because I don't think I can pinpoint how or when my point of view shifted.  It just did.  I started praying as a steward of what God had given us with the shop, the house, our jobs, et cetera, and asking Him to help me use our resources well and to just...be available when He did need me for something (God sometimes has to yell at me to get my attention).

And we prayed for the shop.  We prayed it would do well.  When it didn't, we prayed about that and what God's plan was.  There were a lot of times over that year that things should have ended a lot quicker and uglier than they did. I said it in the last entry:  if you look at the math, there was no way we should have been able to pay a mortgage, buy food, and work on keeping up on home bills, shop bills, giving, and so on. That was totally God and I absolutely believe it was because we stood back and said, "Hey, we work for you and we have no clue what's going on. Here's what we need."  Like God told me in the shower, He gave us "enough" and we were able to steward that "enough" to get us through the year.  Was it a complete and total answer to our prayers?  No.  But it was what He had seen would be enough for His purpose.

When we finally had to close up shop, we prayed about all the people we had worked with, met, and wouldn't get to see anymore.  We prayed about the bills and everything else that happens when you lose a business.  I prayed really hard for the Spousal Unit because as the head of the household, a lot of this fell on his shoulders to deal with when we finally did close the doors.  I did what I could when I could but he had to bear the lion's share of it and it was hard for him.

Final outcome?  We lost our business.  Our house is now in foreclosure and we moved to another state in order for the SU to have work.  We have no retirement anymore and very little savings, mostly living month to month.  Hoping to be able to time the paychecks so we can send the kids and our grandchildren some Christmas presents.  Not sure how we're goingn to deal with taxes this year.  We still owe money and are working at paying that off as we can a la Dave Ramsey again. 

Part of me wishes I could tie this entry up in some nice, neat little ribbon; make a pleasant package out of it; not really the point of it all, though.  I guess my whole point in this series of entries is that while following God has its times of peace and joy and happiness, it is also messy, hard and painful.  He can call us to do things that seem to make no sense and we may never know the whys or wherefores in this life - and that is an outcome we have to be prepared for.  God never promised us all the answers nor did he assure us that somewhere down the line, the last piece of the puzzle would pop into place and we'd say, "Ohhhhhh, I get it now!"  My (sometimes daily) choice is do I become bitter about how things worked out and let that rule me, separating the closeness that I've grown to know by becoming more persistent in prayer over these past two years?  Or do I keep praying about it, admitting those days that I'm really kind of ticked off about the whole thing, and then ask God to help me get my head screwed back on straight again so I continue to work on lining up my world view with His?

Yancey writes, "Jesus never promised to erase all poverty, all suffering, all human need.  Rather, he announced a kingdom that values the needy above the beautiful and powerful and self-sufficient."   Becoming needy/weak is a frightening thing, particularly, I think, because we live in a world that does place a high value on self-sufficiency and "pulling oneself up by the bootstraps".  We've got shows like The Apprentice and Homemade Millionaire that base their appeal on the idea that anyone, anywhere, can make it with their talent or skills.  There is a place for that and a place for hard work, most definitely, but there is a time and a place to set aside self-reliance and admit that we need so much more than what the world tells us will solve our problems.  Paul talks in Corinthians about being delighted in his weakness because it is then he is strong since Christ's power rests on him.  It's not in spite of the fact Paul is weak but because he is weak.  When we are self-sufficient, we tend to think everything is done under our own power.  When we are weak or needy, we are then able to see God's hand at work with much more clarity than we originally might have.  Weakness helps remove the blinders.  I got very needy over the past two years and I can see where being needy changed me through learning to pray about that need through prayer, and I think my model of prayer is beginning to approach C.S. Lewis' model.

I still don't know why God had us open a coffee shop and I may not ever get an answer to that.  The need for that knowledge, though, has faded as my relationship has grown.  Before we moved, we had a guy from our church ask us why God would have us open a business when it was ultimately going to fail.  Our response was "He told us to.  We don't have to understand it.  We just have to do it."

And we'll hopefully remember that when the next event comes around.  We won't have to understand it.  We'll just have to do it.  And be needy.  And pray.