Friday, December 25, 2009

Following Yonder Star

It must be challenging for a pastor to preach about Christmas. The story is so familiar—what could he say that is new or fresh? How can he make the story compelling to those of us who have heard it all of our lives?

Thankfully, the power of the Christmas story doesn’t lie with the messenger. The news of Jesus’ birth is inspiring without any embellishment.

Our pastor, Pastor Lance, preached a mighty fine Christmas sermon last Sunday focusing on the three wise men. (Though, as he pointed out, we’re not told how many wise men there were. We just assume there were three because three gifts are mentioned.) He described their journey, comparing it to the travels many of us make at Christmas time. I had to smile when he pointed out that the wise men stopped and asked for directions.

But the comment that really hit home with me was when he described the magi’s destination: “Their destination wasn’t a place,” Pastor said, “it was a person.”

What is my "destination" this Christmas, where do I hope to end up? Beside a perfectly decorated tree? At the register with the ideal gift? At the dining room table, serving the quintessential Christmas dinner? If any of these are my destination, then I need to reset my compass. I need to end up at the feet of Jesus on Christmas morning.

I hope you, too, find yourself at the right destination this Christmas Day. Merry Christmas.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thanksgiving Invitation

Thanksgiving Invitation

Some people bring out the wacky in me. It's always lurking right below the surface, so it isn't very hard to raise.

One of those people is my friend Amy. She and I sit together at choir practice. Usually we keep things under control. But last night, she and our friend Emily and I got a little loopy. Sorry, Pastor Todd. But that one song, with the monotonous alto line, we just had to laugh a little.

Amy is coming over for Thanksgiving, and this morning I wrote her an e-mail with some details about the day. I thought you might enjoy this glimpse into our Thanksgiving celebration.

Dear Amy,

I'm so glad you're coming for Thanksgiving. We pinned down some plans. We'll have "dinner" at 1:00. (My mother always said "Sunday dinner" so to me certain noontime meals are "dinner." But my kids always say, "You mean lunch?" So, yes, I mean lunch.)

Please come as early in the day as you can. Okay, maybe after 9:00 so Kate will be dressed. She'd wear her jammies all day if she could. We'll have parades on the TV, games going in the living room, maybe a puzzle, cooking in the kitchen. a veggie tray for snacking, Chex Mix . . .

Then stay as long as you can. We'll have more of the same, but parades will give way to football. If you need to take off, feel free, but we'd love to have you all day! Besides, we're going to have so much food we'll need you to stay and have some leftovers during a football game.

Wear comfie clothes. Unlike my mother, I do not dress up for Thanksgiving dinner. Unless you consider a hat adorned with a turkey head and feathers dressing up.

Also, I like Thanksgiving Day to be about more than parades, football, and food. So if you have a favorite poem, story, Scripture, or song you'd like to share, please bring it. As in, "bring it along," although if you want to "bring it, sister" go right ahead. If you just want to sit back and listen to Doug read President Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation, that's fine, too.

If you hear of someone who needs a place for Thanksgiving, bring 'em along. (Is your roommate set up? And I don't man to imply she's gelatinous or something.)

That invitation is open to you, too. Just give me a call and I'll set an extra plate at the table. If you can't join us for dinner, then join us in taking some time next Thursday for something other than food and football. Take a minute to look at the person across the table from you and tell her you're thankful she's in your life. Read Psalm 150 before you dive into the cranberry sauce and "praise him for his surpassing greatness." Thank God for his everyday grace that allowed you to survive another year.

It might sound a little wacky, but give it a try.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Texting Lessons

Before sending Abby off to college, Doug and I broke down and bought her a cell phone. A room full of other things, too, mind you, but the cell phone was a pretty big deal. Doug and I have resisted getting our children cell phones. We just don’t think it’s necessary. Our children have a million reasons why they “need” their own phones, but they have yet to convince us. But then one of them said this: “I’m going away to college.” Yeah, that convinced us. But it’s only worked for Abby so far.

As we added Abby to our cell phone plan, we also added unlimited texting. We knew that would be an important feature for Abby. So, suddenly, I have this new communication tool at my disposal.

Kate is already a pro at texting. When I first got my phone a few years ago Kate thought we had unlimited texting as part of our plan. (Doesn’t everybody?) But no. We didn’t even have limited texting or text-your-ten-best-friends texting. What we didn’t know was that when I gave Kate permission to use my phone for what I assumed was a phone conversation, she was texting her friends. We didn’t discover this until the bill came at the end of the first month. At least that bill made the regular monthly charges seem really, really low. Really.

So anyway, Kate is trying to teach me how to text. I have a rather dated phone and it doesn’t have a full keyboard. The letters are grouped together under the number keys. The number “2” has the letters “a,b,” and “c.” You’re probably familiar with it. Even rotary phones had letters with the numbers.

There is a snazzy feature on my phone where the phone figures out the word I want when I type in a certain combination of keys. I don’t have to painstakingly type in every letter. Kate had turned on this feature (and used it) before giving me a lesson in how to use it.

One day, shortly after getting Abby her phone, I decided to send her a text message as she headed off to go shopping. I was going to write, “Hi. Have fun.”

To start the word, “Hi,” I hit the “4” button where the “h” is. My smart little phone spit out the word “Hi.”

Sweet! I thought. This will be really easy.

The phone automatically put in a space and waited for the next instruction. I started typing the word “have.”

“H-a-” so far so good. But then it spit out a “t” giving me “hat.” It automatically gave me a space and moved on to the next word. I hit “clear” and tried again. “H-a-” and again with the “t”. By this time it was beeping and flashing and I decided, “Okay, I’ll go with ‘hat.’ ”

“Hat fun” is almost “have fun.” Abby’s a smart girl. She’ll figure it out.

On to the next word. I hit the “3” key three times trying to get to the “f.” But the phone thought I was asking for three letters from the “3” key. So it selected “fee—“ which led it naturally to the word “feet.” Again, I cleared out the word and tried again. Hitting “3-3-3” gave me “feet.”

I began to giggle.

Then, sitting alone in my parked car, I started to laugh. I hit send.

“Hi. Hat feet.”

Abby deftly replied, “Hat feet?”

Laughing harder, I abandoned texting and called Abby.

“Hello?” she answered.

By that time I was laughing uncontrollably, tears rolling down my face.


Then Abby started to laugh, too.

I still don’t text well or often. But one thing is certain—I now have a whole new way to hat feet.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

You Can Trust Your Car*

Our teenage daughters, Abby and Kate, have spent the last year learning to drive. They completed a formal drivers education course taught by Mr. Matthews, a friend of ours in the drivers ed business. The course included the usual book learnin’ and four driving sessions where Mr. Matthews took them on residential roads, city streets, and the freeway.

Before teenagers can receive a driver's license in Colorado, they are required to complete a certain number of driving hours under adult supervision in both daytime and nighttime. The state also limits the number of passengers teens can carry for the first several months. If Colorado didn’t set these rules, Doug and I would have. I’ve heard too many stories about cars full of teenagers crashing and . . . Yes, we’d already decided our children wouldn’t drive cars full of friends.

It’s quite different from when I learned to drive. I took a week of classes, a few loops around town with my teacher, and I was licensed to drive. My sister Ellen gave me another course in driving my father’s Datsun (it was a stick shift) but there were no limits on passengers and such. I soon had my first speeding ticket, issued while I was driving a few of my friends around. I haven’t had a speeding ticket since, I might add.

Anyway, because the girls had to have 50 hours each of supervised driving hours, it fell on Doug and me to ride shot gun and advise. Doug did a lot more of this than I did. He’d take the girls out driving for hours at a time, just so they could get their time in. I may have done that once or twice. I reluctantly let the girls drive when we were going to church or to the store. I wasn’t eager to submit my personal well-being, my family’s well-being, and, yes, my vehicle’s well-being to a novice driver.

It was a little easier for me when Doug was in the front seat with one of the newbees. I knew he was able to reach over and correct steering or rescue us from a bad lane change.

It reminded me a little of the Christian life. As I travel along, I may think I’m the one in control, the one making all the decisions. But I’m not. God is the trustworthy one. His wisdom guides, His hand directs.

A couple weeks ago Kate and Abby became bona fide licensed drivers. Now they can drive on their own without Mom or Dad. But even so, they’re still under God’s watchful eye. I’ll have to learn to trust God in a whole new way.

*Did you hear the men’s chorus singing, “You can trust your car to the man who wears the star. The big, bright Texaco star”? I know lots of old commercial jingles. I’ll have to write about that another time.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Eagle Has Landed

"One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind."

I clearly recall hearing those words on July 20, 1969, the day man first walked on the moon.

I got to skip church to watch the moon landing. And we never skipped church. I felt a little guilty but this was the moon landing. I wasn't going to miss it. I remember my mother and one of my sisters went to church and got back home before the astronauts actually walked on the moon. I remember seeing my mother and sister walk past the basement window and thinking how ironic it was that they went to church AND got to see man walk on the moon. Though I'm sure "ironic" was not in my vocabulary when I was ten. While I can picture myself in the family room watching the moon landing, it's the skipping church part that remains most vivid in my mind. That says something about my family, I guess. Moon landing, skipping church, equally monumental.

I remember my father telling me that when he was in high school his science teacher told his class that man would walk on the moon in their lifetime. "We all thought he was crazy," Dad said. Wonder if that teacher was still alive in 1969. I hope so.

Like most Americans during those years I was enamored with space. I had a poster in my bedroom of "The Earth Rising," a now famous image of the "half earth" suspended in a black sky above the surface of the moon. The space program gave us all something to be proud of in a time when our country was greatly divided over a great many things.

Tonight I watched a documentary about the moon landing. It brought up some things I didn't realize as a child. Nixon was president. He spoke to the astronauts by phone by way of the Houston Space Center. Why don't I remember that? Five other Apollo missions landed on the moon, the last one in 1972. I knew there were other missions to the moon but I couldn't have told you there were that many. The Six Flags amusement parks ought to capitalize on that somehow.

The documentary also talked about the importance of Apollo missions 1 - 10. Each one tested an important part of the moon landing, with Apollo 10 hovering above the surface of the moon without actually landing.

As I watched the documentary I noticed I was smiling. I was reliving the excitement of those space travel years. I smiled realizing I remembered the day man walked on the moon. I shared that experience with "my fellow Americans." And I was proud.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chef Eric

 The other day, my son, Eric, made sausage gravy for dinner. This excited me on several levels.

 1) Eric is 13.

I didn’t know how to make gravy until after I was married. I’m amazed that Eric can make gravy—and good gravy at that—at age 13.

 2) Eric loves to cook.

He’s always enjoyed cooking. As a kid he loved watching the popular and charismatic chef Emeril Lagasse on television. Eric isn’t afraid to experiment and try new things. I’m tied to recipes and seldom deviate. He’s going to be a much better cook than I am.

He helped make hamburgers on the grill recently. They needed a little extra cooking time in the microwave, but otherwise turned out really good.

“Did you put something extra in the meat?” someone asked?

“Did you grill them differently?”

“No, all I did was shape them into patties,” he said. 

He must have magic hands if he just has to pat the meat for it to turn out just right!           

3) Eric is part of our family support network.

When I was offered the option to work full-time after working part-time for a few years, I asked my family what they thought about it. One of my concerns was getting dinner on the table every night. I could join the ranks of those who cook once a week—or once a month—and prepare enough food for a week—or a month. But I’m not that organized. Nor do I want to be. My family offered to share the cooking chores. Each of us (Doug, the three kids, and I) agreed to cook one weeknight and clean up one weeknight. Doug and I work together on weekends.

We set the schedule around each person’s availability. We each had regular activities like music lessons or small group meetings that we needed to accommodate. Plus, short-term activities like play practice required a little flex in the schedule. Now, Abby is heading off to college so we’ll have to shift things around more.

I can’t say we all do our chores without grumbling, but we do get it done. And we’ve learned to cook and clean and cooperate. Talk about life skills!

 4) I love sausage gravy.

‘nuf said.



Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Goodbye, Michael Jackson

 Michael Jackson’s death made me sad. Not so much because I was a fan. I liked some of the earlier music by the Jackson Five, but I didn’t follow Michael’s solo career so much. I heard a man say that Michael Jackson’s music was the sound track of his life. That does not describe me. I was touched more by the deaths of John Denver and Karen Carpenter than I was Michael Jackson. Their music did weave itself into the fabric of my teenage years.

            I was saddened by Michael’s death for different reasons. In a strange way I was sad because he and I were the same age. He was just two weeks older than I. So, somehow, that made it more personal. Someone my age died.

            But I wasn’t saddened only by the tragedy of this early death; I was saddened by the tragedy of his life. It appears he had a domineering father that robbed him of his childhood. I’m sure Michael genuinely enjoyed performing, and it sounds like he wanted to be famous. But from my humble perspective I think he should have spent a little more time riding bikes. That’s what I did when I was 11. Michael Jackson was on The Ed Sullivan Show.

            I also think his numerous cosmetic surgeries reveal an inner sadness. The day he died, Kate and I were watching some of the retrospectives on TV.

            “He was a cute kid,” Kate said. “Why did he get so much plastic surgery?"

            “Because he wasn’t happy with himself,” I told her. I don’t mean to imply that all plastic surgery is wrong. I’ve seen cases where surgery corrected some disfigurement or altered an unappealing attribute and the results were worthwhile. But was there anything wrong with Michael Jackson’s face? I don’t know what he saw when he looked in the mirror, but it wasn’t what the rest of the world saw. The cute 10-year-old boy singing his heart out on The Ed Sullivan Show turned into an addicted, disfigured, and bizarre man. 

And that’s just sad.


P.S. The Sunday after Michael Jackson died I read these words in our church hymnal:

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;

I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;

I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame,

I’d rather be true to His holy name.

Than to be a king of a vast domain

Or be held in sin’s dread sway,

I’d rather have Jesus than anything

This world affords today.

by Rhea F. Miller, 1922.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lucky me

I won a drawing today. I attended a luncheon with a group of people I’d never luncheoned with before and I won a book in a random drawing.

It happens to me all the time. A few months ago I won a painting in a drawing at work. Last fall I won concert tickets by being the ninth caller to a radio show. I won $1,000 once by calling a different station when they played the song of the day. Which just happened to be “Windy,” the song my third grade class sang for a school program.

I thought it was so cool. All the other classes were singing “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music but our class was singing a song by The Association. Our teacher bought the 78 and we played it over and over again on our little classroom record player until we had all the words transcribed. We didn’t have the option of finding the lyrics on the Internet.

Yeah, my third grade teacher was cool. I wish I remembered her name. Aiken Elementary School, Ontario, Oregon, 1967. She had a blonde beehive and wore pink lipstick and miniskirts. She’s the teacher I credit with igniting my love for writing. Actually, it started with poetry. My teacher thought one of the poems I wrote was good, and I was a changed person.

I can remember sitting in my bedroom closet with a flashlight—probably looking for a place to be alone—and writing a dictionary of rhyming words. When somebody as cool as my third grade teacher says you’re good at something it’s pretty inspiring.

My sister Jenny tells a story that once when she asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I said, “I don’t know, but I want to write poetry in my spare time.”

So anyway, I won a book today. It happens to me all the time.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Soley Because Thou Art My God

We sang a new song in choir tonight. Actually, it's an old song, but new to our group. The words are based on a 17th century poem, “My Eternal King.” As I sang the words I had a feeling I'd heard them before, but I was moved by them afresh.

My Eternal King

Poem (anonymous)
from 17th Century Latin
Translated by Rev. Edward Caswall

My God, I love Thee;
not because I hope for heav’n thereby,
Nor yet because who love Thee not
Must die eternally.

Thou, O my Jesus, Thou didst me
Upon the cross embrace;
For me didst bear the nails, the nails and spear,
And manifold disgrace.

Why, then why, O blessed Jesus Christ,
Should I not love Thee well?
Not for the hope of winning heav’n,
Or of escaping hell;

Not with the hope of gaining aught,
Not seeking a reward;
But as Thyself hast loved me,
O ever-loving Lord!

E’en so I love Thee, and will love,
And in Thy praise will sing;
Solely because Thou art my God,
And my Eternal King.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Kindle, Barnes and Noble

If our local Barnes and Noble bookstore were any indication, I’d say print communication was alive and well. It’s an enormous store filled with books on travel, science, history—any topic you could imagine. As I sit here typing away on my computer, others around me contentedly turn book pages and leaf through magazines.

Yet I know traditional publishing is in trouble. It’s expensive to print books these days. And with the invention of electronic books—like Kindle—people can download a book off the Internet for much less than it costs to buy a print version, and they can carry multiple books with them in a device about the size of Reader’s Digest.

I recently looked over the shoulder of a friend as he explained his Kindle to a couple of us. He can enlarge the size of the type—a real advantage to those of us who wear reading glasses—and copy portions of the book to be saved in a separate document. My friend is one of those who goes through a few books a week, so his Kindle serves him well. He can get a new book without leaving his chair. No trip to the library or Barnes and Noble.

“I can be sitting in the airport and purchase a new book in less time than it would take someone else to walk across the waiting area to the bookstore and purchase a hard copy,” he illustrated.

I’m kind of torn between my love of books and my love of electronic organizing. To think I could copy portions of a book and save them in a document, all referenced, to review later for an article or a speech—that would be pretty sweet. But I’m torn. I love the smell of books, the feel of the pages. And I adore magazines—seeing them displayed on the newsstand, reviewing the headlines in the supermarket, reading in the car as I wait for a child to get out of school, cutting out my favorite recipes to file in my recipe book (or stick in a file box to someday be pasted in a book). And you don’t have to worry about a magazine’s battery running low or interfering with an airplane’s take off or landing. And if a printed book “crashes” you can just bend over and pick it up.

I think I’m going to have to give up on print, though. I really believe things are going electronic. But as I look around at the beautiful leather bound journals and glossy magazine covers it makes me sad . . .

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Merry Easter

My pastor greeted us Sunday morning with, "Merry Christmas." We laughed, knowing he was referring to the large, fluffy snowflakes falling outside. Yes, Easter in Colorado Springs usually means snow.

That same pastor's wife later posted this on her Facebook status:  ...sung to the tune of "Silver Bells"...Easter snow.....Easter's Easter time in the Rockies. Try to find....Easter eggs...they're hiding under the snow!

Nice to have pastors--and pastors' wives--who are so much fun.

Kate and I thought up a version of "White Easter" (with apologies to Irving Berlin).

I'm dreaming of a white Easter, just like the ones I've come to know.
Where the tree tops glisten, and children listen, to hear church bells in the snow. (ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding).

I'm dreaming of a white Easter, with every jelly bean in sight.
May your days be merry, and bright. And may all your "Easters-es" be white.

We got a few inches of the cold stuff. It was perfect for building a snow man, which Kate and Eric did with their friend Mary in her front yard. The rest of us sat inside with Mary's family and a group of friends watching The Masters on TV, admiring the lush green lawns of Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia.

I admit, springtime is when I wished I didn't live in Colorado. By March, I'm ready for some tulips and daffodils. I long for the rhododendrons of Portland. Something--anything--green.

During a business trip to San Diego a few years ago, my friends and I walked from our hotel (which had a rose garden) to a nearby mall. We passed a flower bed filled with small, beautifully fragrant white flowers. (One member of our group said they were jasmine; I'll take her word for it.) Feeling the warmth of the sun, smelling the jasmine in the air, I turned to my friend Kim and said, "Tell me again why we live in Colorado." She said, "I'll give you three reasons; June, July, and August."

She brought me to my senses. Come July I won't be longing for Illinois, Iowa, or Oregon, green as they may be. I'll be happy to live in dry, brown Colorado. And I may even smile at the memory of our Easter snowman. And besides, "home" is where I can sleep on the couch during The Masters. It didn't really matter that it was snowing outside. 

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Cuteness Factor

Have you heard of the cuteness factor? That's when the cuteness of the performer is measured against the actual skill demonstrated in the performance. Small children generally have a high cuteness factor. Execution may score low, but cuteness will score high. That's the cuteness factor.

Case in point, the four-ish-year-old boy who played the teeny tiny violin at Kate's recital yesterday. The recital was for all the students of Kate's private viola teacher (who also teaches some violin students). This little guy played two songs, the first called "From D to E." The title was not some cryptic message about making forward progress in life or anything like that. The song consisted of two notes, and I'm fairly certain the notes were "D" and "E". He played pizzicato, meaning he plucked the strings. At the completion of the song, he paused, kept the violin under his chin and extended his right hand. His teacher placed his bow in his hand, and the mini-maestro set bow to string and played "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."

When he finished, he placed his violin at his side, stuck his chin in the air to gain momentum, and bowed at the waist to abundant applause. Huge cuteness factor with this performance.

Kate was hoping for a few points from the cuteness factor. She wore a new dress and did, indeed, look very cute. She said, "Well, if I mess up, I might as well look good doing it." She didn't mess up. She played "Prelude to Suite #1 in G Major." You'd recognize it if you heard it. It was written for cello but she played it on her viola. Not perfectly, but beautifully. I was proud.

Perfection wasn't the goal. Everyone there made mistakes. But Kate stood alone in front of a room full of people (including her parents, sister, and brother--and her teacher) and played very well. That takes courage. She worked hard, and did her best.

The cuteness factor counts when you're four. When you get older, you need to score high on other things--preparation, hard work, and courage.

Monday, March 9, 2009


It's easy for me to become preoccupied with "me." So I thought I'd take some time and list a few things that will improve my perspective.

Life and Death
I recently held a one-month-old baby. He was so sweet and snuggly. What else really matters? Meanwhile, I'm praying for some co-workers whose 13-year-old son is fighting cancer. For them, the battle really is between life and death. My concerns pale by comparison.

My mother-in-law is fond of saying, "Will it really matter 100 years from now?" That helps me not to get too worked up about the small stuff. What I really need to ask is, "What will really matter in eternity?" That's an even more important question to answer.

"When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?"
(Psalm 8:3,4)

Ask my friend Terry how he is and he'll say, "Blessed." I know he has things going on in his life that are difficult, but he chooses to focus on his blessings. I need to take a lesson from him. I have so much more to be thankful for than I have to complain about.

And if I do complain, it's like telling God he's not doing a very good job at running my life. Have you seen the movie "Bruce Almighty"? I've only seen it in parts on TV, but the premise is that God gives a human the chance to run the world. In the end, the man realizes he doesn't want to do it and gives control back to God. I'm quite sure I'd come to the same conclusion in the same situation.

The Great Exchange
"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).
When I look around me, I can see hard things happening. What I need to do is change my focus a little and see the good things instead. It's a matter of perspective.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Out of Order

I'm still figuring out this blog business. Apparently if you start writing a post one day, and don't finish it until, say, a month later, and then post it yet another day later, it will appear on your blog under the date it was originally created.

So if you go to my blog looking for the article I posted today about my childhood, it's waaaay down under January 30, because that's when I started writing it.

There may be a way to change the order of the posts, but I didn't see it right off.

Sorry for the confusion. I'll try to keep things in order from now on.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Little Water, Please

I've never been great with plants. Not that we get into arguments or anything, I just tend to ignore them. And for plants, that's not a good thing. I do best with plants that thrive on neglect.

I like plants, though, and wish I were better at keeping them watered. If I remember to water them once a week they seem to do okay. But if I miss watering day, then I may not think about it for another whole week. You see the problem.

I discovered that plants seem to do well at my office. I guess it's the florescent lights. So a year ago or more I took one of my sad little plants to work with me. It wasn't even "Take a Plant to Work Day." It was just a mission of mercy. 

I don't know what kind of plant it is. I used to think it was called a Creeping Charlie, but I've since been told that Creeping Charlie is a weed that grows in your grass. My plant is kind of vine-esque with flat, shiny leaves.

Well, most of them are shiny. I noticed recently that there was one small group of leaves in the center of the pot that were decidedly unshiny. They were downright dull. Upon closer inspection I realized that that particular stem had become dried out where it joined the rest of the plant (no doubt due to the aforementioned "neglect" issue). It wasn't exactly dead, but it was not entirely healthy either.

I couldn't help but find a spiritual comparison. When I fail to draw daily from the Word of God, when I neglect spending time in His presence,  I, too, become unshiny. Not dead, but certainly lacking in the kind of vibrant life I could have if I were better connected to the Vine. Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

I cut the unshiny stem off my plant and stuck it in some water. I'm trusting it will sprout new roots and start growing some new, shiny leaves. Maybe that's what I need to do for my times of spiritual dryness. Cut myself off from the rest of the world and saturate myself in God's Word. 

Sounds refreshing.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

To Envy Robert Frost

Eric and I went to the library a week or so ago. He wanted to check out some books on tape (or CD, as they are these days). Looking over his shoulder I saw a plastic case with the title, "The Voice of the Poet: Robert Frost." I'd always enjoyed Mr. Frost's poetry so I thought it would be fun to hear him read his own work. I checked it out and took it home.

The recordings were made at different times in different places, all later in his life. His voice warbled a bit. That, and his New England accent, reminded me of Katherine Hepburn. He read simply, evenly, sometimes too quickly, I thought, with less drama or emotion than I expected.

I realized again why I like his poetry. He wrote about ordinary things: birch trees, owls, apple picking. He discovered the poetry of simple conversations with people, of a leaf covered path, the grass.

Dust of Snow
The way of a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I rued.
(Robert Frost, 1923)

I found myself envious of his talent. But as I read the brief biography accompanying the recording I learned his life was filled with tragedy. His father died when he was 11 years old. His first son died of cholera at age four. His sister was institutionalized.

If his tragic life somehow birthed his genius, then I'll pass. I'll remain content with my simple prose and keep my mostly happy life.

I'll never win a Pulitzer,
Though Robert Frost won four.
My prize—a happy family;
I'll want for nothing more.
(Rebecca K. Grosenbach, 2009)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Things I Miss From Childhood

The complete lack of responsibility. My mother even fed the dog. But lack of responsibility also meant a lack of freedom. I was pretty much at the mercy of those with cars and the license to drive.

My dog. Pebbles was a chihuahua mixed with who knows what else. She wasn't a particularly nice dog, at least not to strangers. But she loved our family. I can remember getting her to chase me as I ran around the house. Then I'd turn around and chase her. She could sure run, that little thing. And she was always so happy to see us. My parents had a split level home and she had her spot at the top of the stairs, out of the traffic pattern, where she'd sleep during the day. When someone came in the front door she'd do a little happy dance at the top of the stairs. She'd stand on her hind legs, paw the air with her front legs, get back on all fours and wag her tail so hard her entire body wiggled. She knew how to make a person feel welcomed.

Roller skating with one skate in the garage.
We had one pair of roller skates in our family. They were the kind that you'd clamp on your shoes. My sister Ellen and I would each strap on one skate (I don't remember if I had the same skate every time or not) and skate in circles in the garage. Dad kept it clean and it gave us a large, smooth surface. Push-glide . . . push-glide . . . There was something special about it. Sharing, making do, . . .

Dance routines with Jerilyn.
One of my best friends in late grade school was my church friend Jerilyn. I got to spend the night with her once and we made up a routine to the song "Seattle" by Bobby Sherman. I've long since forgotten the steps, except that when we'd sing the word "Seattle" we'd stop and extend an arm toward a painting on the wall of her living room--as if the painting were of the soggy city. Dancing was frowned upon at my house, so dancing--to the music of Bobby Sherman, no less--was like enjoying a forbidden pleasure.

The farm.
The farm was my maternal grandparents' home in Iowa. The house was a simple two-story building, with a rarely used front porch. Everyone came in through the side door, between the kitchen and the cellar. Grandpa was a quiet, stoic farmer who didn't go out of his way to impress anybody. Granny, on the other hand, fretted over everything and everybody. She made sure there were filled candy dishes in every room, bottles of pop on the cellar steps, and ice cream bars in the freezer. And I loved the farm itself. Fields of corn, noisy crickets, smelly cows. I could write an entire book about life on the farm. So maybe I will. It'll be my generation's "Little House" series. 

Riding my bike.
I would go for long rides by myself, for what seemed like hours. If my kids did that today, I'd worry about them. But there wasn't much to worry about in Boise. Once, I rode with my friend Karen all the way downtown--at least five miles. Becky (yes, I had a friend named Becky) and I rode to our favorite spots where we'd climb trees or catch snails. My bike was a way to get to special places. But it was also a joy in itself. Just riding, riding, riding. Sometimes I'd rubber band my dad's transistor radio to the handlebars and enjoy some music as I rode along. I guess this doesn't have to be something I miss; I could still ride a bike today. But I don't.

What's the common thread? I think it's finding joy in the simple, carefree pleasures of life. Yeah, I miss that. Being a grown-up isn't as much fun. But at least I get to drive a car.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hail to the Chief

I watched little bits of the inauguration Tuesday. I was supposed to be working, after all. One of my co-workers, who is very internet savvy, showed me a site from CNN and Facebook that showed live video of the festivities accompanied by live conversation from people all over the world.

I was amazed at the technology--watching "TV" on my computer and reading what people thought about the event at the same time. The comments came almost too fast to read. Most were excited about what they saw, writing about tears, goose bumps, even dancing.

I was able to select an option that would show me what my group of Facebook friends had to say. Some of my friends weren't as supportive. One person even said something about the end of the world.

My feelings fell somewhere in between. I don't agree with many of President Obama's views so I'm not overjoyed that he is our leader. I felt no goose bumps. (Except during the parade, but that had more to do with the five rows of fife players in the fife and drum band. My piccolo-playing heart nearly burst with pride.) But at the same time I share a sense of collective accomplishment that our country has elected an African American president. In a way, it is the ultimate expression of the crumbling of racial barriers. That is something to be very proud of.

But at the same time, I also believe many people voted for Obama simply because he is part African American. To me, that says race still divides us. We haven't become colorblind, we've become color blended. We happily coexist, but we're still very aware of our differences. I'm proud that President Obama's color didn't keep him from office. But it may have helped him get into office, and that isn't right either.

I look forward to the day when race really isn't a factor, when people are elected because of their ability to serve, their stand on important issues, their character. I'm praying President Obama will be the kind of leader I'll be proud to support. I'll let him prove himself. Then I'll start dancing.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Why "miracles in small letters"?

As I considered changing my e-column into a blog, I realized it would be a good opportunity to give it a new name. “Thank God It’s Thursday” seemed like a good title four years ago, but now it seems rather trite. And I wanted something that wasn’t tied to a particular day of the week. Because you all know how faithful I was at writing you every Thursday.

I wanted something that would say, “Finding God in the everyday stuff” but better than that. I considered “Extraordinary Ordinary,” “Burgers and Fries,” or “And another thing,” but none of those cranked my tractor.

So I went online and looked up quotes of well-known writers. Shakespeare, T.S. Elliot. But then I thought, “Why not go to your favorite, the guy who inspired you to be a writer in the first place.” C.S. Lewis.

After a little reading I discovered the quote that is now the basis of my blog name: “Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”

I knew that was it. My original idea for the title was “Small Letters” but that was taken. So I added “miracles” and now I like that even better.

So there you have it. “miracles in small letters.”

I will no doubt write the same kind of self-preoccupied prose as I did when it was known as “Thank God It’s Thursday.” But it’s different, somehow. It’s a blog. About miracles. In small letters.