Wednesday, February 26, 2014

It's happened again!!!!

February 26, 2014

It’s happened again!!
I don’t do real well with February.  It has always been the longest month of the year.  Yes, I get it, it has the fewest days, but they are such dark days.  The local weatherman cheered me right up yesterday when he said we set a new record for the snowiest February on record, like that would cheer me up.
Maybe it was hearing good old Tom talk about breaking the snow record that tipped the scales, that allowed that Seasonal Affective Disorder to just explode, dragging me down where I cannot even
laugh at videos of animals and people running into windows or mirrors.  Me, I’m the person who never, ever naps.  It is just pointless for me to lie down, cover up, close my eyes, and expect to wake up refreshed, so I just don’t do it.  Sleep eludes me enough at night, but in the daytime, forget it! But yesterday, I actually took a nap in the family room, and slept.  So I knew I was in bad shape.
Then this morning, my Bible reading took me to I Thessalonians, again!  I have been there for over a week, and today I decided to open up chapter 3 and read from these words written by Paul to his old friends in Thessaloniki.  Here is what it sounded like to the first readers, from The Message: “we…send Timothy to get you up and about, cheering you on so you wouldn’t be discouraged by these hard times………In the middle of our trouble and hard times here, just knowing how you’re doing keeps us going.  Knowing that your faith is alive keeps us alive…..We do what we can, praying away night and say, asking for the bonus of seeing your faces again and doing what we can to help when you faith falters………May you be infused with strength and purity, filled with confidence in the presence of God our Father when our Master Jesus arrives with His followers.”
First off, it is not that I am having some kind of remarkably bad times.  It is just that they seem to collect in February and look a lot worse.  So, you’d think God knew what I needed this morning.  It is especially interesting to me because I have been thinking, these last few days about how thankful I am for Facebook, for how encouraging it is to see the posts from former students, now more like old friends are persevering, even through their own challenges.

So I can say with Paul at the end of chapter 2, “Who do you think we’re going to be proud of when our Master Jesus appears if it’s not you? You’re our pride and joy!”  When I reread the posts of old friends, friends who have remained faithful despite the many challenges they have all faced, I am encouraged.  You are the best medicine for SAD that there is.  You remind me what it is all about and I am thankful once again for you…and for Facebook, and for God, Who knows just what we need when we need it.

Thank you Jen and Joy and Christie and Kelly and Anna and Summer and Laura and Deneice and….

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Reading Someone Else's Mail?

February 19, 2014
Did you ever really think of the epistles in the New Testament as somebody else’s mail, as letters from Paul to people he loved?  Because that is what they are.  This section of “A Year With God, Living Out the Spiritual Disciplines” has been focusing on studying, and as someone who taught how to study, it caused me to think about what I taught and how it applies to the Bible.

When I was teaching about reading effectively, I taught the students to do a little pre-reading – check out what the material covered: what was it about?  Kind of like doing some stretching before running or doing other heavy duty exercises.  Then I suggested that as they read through the material, to look for answers to any of the questions the pre-reading stirred up, so they were reading intentionally.  Finally, they should rehearse what they read, aloud is best, but think through and restate the substance of the reading.
So, I have started reading someone else’s mail, the epistle of First Thessalonians to be precise.  Every day I read it through, and in a couple of different translations.  The first couple of times, my goal was just to get through it.  Then I realized what a waste that was, unless I made an effort to hold on to what I was reading.  I wonder if you have done that, read through a assigned passage with the goal only to get through it, like a good girl.

Anyway, today I read it through a bit differently, remembering that this was a letter Paul wrote to the believers at Thessaloniki.  He loved them and he longed for them to continue in a loving, persevering,  vigorous, and effective relationship with God.  SO, he gave them some encouragement, like “We are bound to thank God always for you brothers as we remember you work of faith, your labor of love and your patience of hope in following Jesus Christ.” And “You became followers of us and of God and lived your faith in such a way that you were examples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.”  (my paraphrase.)  Can you imagine how encouraged they must have been when they heard these words?

These words pierced and challenged me; would that be my reputation?  Would Paul have said that of me?  And do I encourage believers around me that way?

Well, enough for today!  I am excited about using this method of reading this letter…and maybe I will tell you more that I am learning soon.
photo from

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Doin' a happy dance!!

February 18, 2014
“One final word friends.  We ask you-urge you is more like it – that you keep on doing what we told you to do to please God, not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living and spirited dance. You know the guidelines we laid out for you from the Master Jesus.  God wants you to live a pure life.”  I Thess. 4: 1-2  The Message

I grew up in the church era that dance was a bad thing.  I remember hearing someone in church say that she would rather see her daughter dead than on the dance floor.  I was horrified to hear someone say such a thing, but it does give you a peek back into my formative years.
Then the phrase “happy dance” came into vogue.  When someone was filled with joy, she, usually said something about doing a happy dance, and honestly, I have experienced that kind of joy, that sense of being so filled with joy, sitting or standing still seemed somehow wrong.  It’s kind of like singing in church.  We sing a song with the lines in it like – lifting up our hands in worship, but our hands are tight to our side, or holding on to the back of the next pew.

Not mine, though!  Years ago, I worshipped with a group of Christian writers from all over the US, and when we sang, they lifted up their hands.  I wrestled back in my pew.  My hand wanted to go up.  It wanted to testify to the joy that was mine in resting completely in my Saviour.  My hand wanted to show what I said I believed.  It was not happy hanging there along my side like some kind of sad “sack.”  So I let it go up there, in the dangerous territory of other happy hands, celebrating an amazing relationship with an amazing Saviour.
Which brings us to the happy dance!  Last week, I taught a couple of memoir classes in the public library, and I wanted to do a happy dance.  I loved it – teaching adult students who wanted to learn to write, to tell their stories and show what they had learned through their stories.  I left that room on a “high,” so to speak, filled with joy, dancing inside.  I was living out who God made me to be, a teacher, an encourager.  And the happy dance that I performed, mostly inside my head, was a pure celebratory dance, the kind that honors God, that gives Him the glory.  He made me a teacher.  He made me someone who loves to encourage other writers, and there is no reason why I should not give expression to the joy I felt, that I wanted to share with you.
I fear we believers may spend a lot of time, maybe too much time, thinking about what is wrong in our lives or the lives of those around us, and miss the dance party God means for us to attend, rejoicing in the opportunities there are to live out who He made us to be, and savor it.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Teach me how!

February 14
“O, most merciful God incline your loving ears to our prayers, and illuminate the hearts of those called by you, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, that they may be enabled worthily to minister to your mysteries, and to love you with an everlasting love, and to attain everlasting joys; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”  Charlemagne

They say you cannot write if you are not a reader, and I have come to understand why.  We need examples of how beautifully words can be used.  And I have also come to understand that it is easier to pray when you listen, or read, the prayers of other people.
It has been well over thirty years since I listened to Howard Horton pray in church, not as the pastor, but as a layman, praying out loud in church.  For all the world, it sounded as though I was eavesdropping on a conversation between two cherished friends.  It was so beautiful and intimate and real – no artificiality, just an exchange between two people who knew each other very well.

Then today, I read the words of Charlemagne’s prayer, written and prayed over 1200 years ago, and I was struck with the beauty of it and the simplicity and I wondered if we cheat ourselves when we do not immerse ourselves in the prayers of other believers.  Like writers learn from other writers, could we who pray, not learn from others who pray?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Long Time is Five Decades!! Just a thought!!

Forty-nine years, it just dawned on me that it is a month short of 49 years ago that Jim asked me to marry him, and 49 years ago this summer that we did get married.  Forty-nine years of God’s faithfulness; that is the next thing that came to mind when two such different people came together.
He likes liverwurst and puzzles and big hamburgers and Pepsi.  I like baby Brussels sprouts and word games and BLT’s and coke.  He likes barbeque and watching football and old westerns.  I like sea food and watching cooking shows and Law and Order. He likes his cake and cookies and brownies in a glass of milk or with applesauce on top; I like cake and cookies and brownies with a cup of coffee. He likes math and I like creative writing.
But we both like teaching and swimming and walking on the beach and being in the same room together and holding hands and riding into the mountains and going to our church. And we like eating dinner together, close enough that we can touch hands every now and then, and we like sharing a bag of popcorn in the movies, and we like eating new things. And we have loved the same God all these years, and I think that is what made the difference – why after being together for fifty years – to include the time before we got engaged, we are still having fun.

Monday, February 10, 2014

I could see the fire coming toward us!

I’m not sure that Martin Luther had the same thing in mind as I did when he said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”  But I have been working on some new staircases this week.  From here, it looks like it’s going to take a while to get to the other end, but the journey has been “a real trip” as people of my generation might have said a while ago.
When I moved out of my office at BBC, I just transferred most of those “valuables” to a guest room at home.  Now I have realized that I am finally ready to move down to the family room where I have had a home office for many years….which means that I have to, once more, go through everything and find a home for books and office paraphernalia that once was close to my heart.

So, I am taking a step at a time. Oh, the treasures I have unearthed as I sifted through the files, those files where you put things because you can’t think of another one more suitable.  I found recipes from Chad, Africa and letters I sent to my sister…all of that provoking more work on my memoir of that time in our lives.  I thought you might enjoy a glimpse of our life back then.
From  Memoir : Peace and War – the fire  
Somehow the brilliance of the noonday sun watered down the sky’s cloudless blue, turning it from aqua to a washed out blue, and I could see it hanging our house at the end of the lane.  That was the first thing that caught my eye as we dribbled our way down the dirt road and on to home after church, the little ones running ahead, while I savored the few free moments before I had to get lunch started.  Then I noticed white puffs of smoke lifting into the sky from beyond our house, and at first thought someone was burning charcoal.  Then I realized the smoke was coloring the sky like an upside down snowfall all along the horizon behind the house and a sense of apprehension hurried me along.  I called out to the kids to wait for me; if there was a fire down the lane, behind our house, I did not want them mixed up in it.

Sure enough, as we crossed the dusty ground that served as a yard at the end of the lane, not only could we see the smoke more clearly in the distance, we could see red flames eating up the dried grass and occasional trees that marked the garden ground between our house and the river.  The crackles of the fiery countryside and the screams of monkeys, parrots, ravens, owls and mourning doves filled the air, and finally I noticed the dark smudges of life between the fire and our house.  People from the village were raking at the grass in front of the fire, scraping the ground, pulling combustibles from the hungry flames, in an effort to keep it flying embers from alighting on the dried grass roofs of the round huts, the people in Balimba called home.

I didn’t know what to do.  Jim was away again, preaching, visiting some distant bush church.  There was no fire department to call, and there certainly was no hose to turn on to wet down the house or the out buildings or the trees that hung over the house.  I herded the children into the house praying all the while, but nothing could keep them from the windows on that side of the house as they watched the flames lick ever closer, wildlife fleeing the flames coming ever closer.

Then I noticed our guards running by with rakes at the ready, and other men I did not know following and moving as the guards directed them.  They started at the line where grass gave way to the sandy dust around the house and worked their way toward the fire, and it came to me, from a TV show I had seen as a child.  They were scraping a firebreak behind the house, running into the mouth of the fire as they uprooted  the grasses and smaller trees piling them like a wall, a meal to satiate the flames, to keep it from us and our house.

We had wooden window frames and shutters and doors, but our house also had mud brick walls with a tin roof.  I felt better as I reasoned that through, but then I knew that the flames would not stop at the wooden shutters; they would leap inside the house licking up the furniture and curtains and, well everything. 

I pulled out the dishes and pointed the girls to setting the table as I organized sandwich makings: homemade peanut butter and cheese spread, cookies and mango sauce and water bottles for lunch feeling guilty as we ate while the people we knew fought the encroaching flames. We would be in the way; we would cause the Chadians great worry as they felt the weight of caring for us while Jim was away. 

Rainy season was not far off, but it was off…weeks away, and the ground had to be prepared for gardens.  Fires worked, they were planned.  Certainly no tractors existed in this part of the country, but someone’s fire got out of hand, and now the flames not only burned up the dead leavings of last year’s harvest , but drove the living in our direction.  Still, I firmly believed, the guards would protect us, even as I begged God to keep them safe and their efforts productive.

Smoke and grit filtered through the screened windows into the house, but we praised God when we recognized we could no longer see any flames.  Just like on TV, the fire break had worked. And so had the prayers.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

I think I am fairly average - a confession!

Feb 8, 2014
I think I am fairly average, and that’s quite a confession.  I love the creation process, the getting the thing on paper, the batter in the pan, the picking out a vacation spot.  The problem is that those decisions require follow-up, the editing, the decorating the cake, and the packing for vacation – not especially the fun parts.  And I think most people can relate to that.
Before Christmas, I did a lot of work on a writing project to give my family, not enough editing, and as a writing teacher I know that is because I did not give the work enough resting time before I called it done.  Anyway, Christmas came and went, the project was given and reality set in.
The work was not finished, and I knew it, even before God showed me where I had filed all of those letters I wrote to my sister when we lived in Africa…great resources to help finish that draft written before Christmas.  But I am finding is so hard to get back into the decision-making and rewrite process.  So I carry the stuff around from room-to-room, finding excuses, like the vacuuming or emptying the dishwasher or the laundry, to keep me from getting back to work.  Have you ever had a project like that?

This morning I read my section from A YEAR WITH GOD, and it talked about how fervently Hannah prayed, how the praying changed her.  My conscience was pricked.  So I decided I needed to read more of the Scripture this morning, and I was going to read something I hadn’t in a while…and that led me to THE MESSAGE and I Thessalonians and the following passage:
 The way we conceive the future sculpts the present, gives contour and tone to nearly every action and thought through the day.  If our sense of the future is weak, we live listlessly.  Much emotional and mental illness and most suicides occur among men and women who feel they “have no future.”  Ken Taylor, introduction to First and Second Thessalonians, The Message

Listlessly got me.  I was wandering around my house listlessly, and I have a future, and a worthwhile project, one I think God wants me to finish. I just need to face the reality of whose voice I have been listening to. One says, “Why put yourself through all that pain, that work? Who cares?” and the other One says, “Trust me.  I showed you those letters for a reason, so do what I have put before you.  Don’t worry about the outcome.  The process is important.”

I keep learning about this thing called “life, this thing I have called retirement.”  It is a journey, and it will be as exciting and fulfilling or as boring or dreary as I make it.  It’s all about whose voice  I listen to, who am I living for.  That last sentence brought to mind the lines: “Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees.” You get so caught up in the mundane that you miss the big picture, and for me that means glorifying God.
Is there a project you need to get to or finish, as task or goal you have put off?  And in the meantime, are you just going through the motions, doing the same old thing every day?  Then let’s recognize that this is not the life God has for us.  Our lives are to be filled with love, joy, peace, gentleness, and goodness…  And when we are busy filling our days with that which honors God, which glorifies Him, we will experience just such a satisfying life.

Peace and War: A Memoir
Carol Brennan King
The book  I am working on..