Friday, December 31, 2010

Ruthie's Christmas Shoes

If you read the recent Ithaca post, you may remember the skirt I mentioned buying for Ruthie. I was tickled with this purchase, as Ruthie has been wearing nothing but jeans everywhere she goes, including to church. I have nothing against wearing jeans to church, but I am adamantly against my baby girl growing up too fast and no longer letting me doll her up in frills and bows. So I found this skirt at Trader K's in Ithaca and hoped against hope that it would find favor with my teenage wanna-be.

Monday, December 27, 2010

If I Lost My Baby....

There are certain thoughts that go through your mind in an ER examining room with your daughter. As I tied Anna into her hospital gown today, tenderly lifting her long, chestnut-colored hair off her back, the inevitable question arose without warning:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Beautiful (Barred) Bridges of Ithaca

Today Dave and I drove to one of my favorite places on earth—the “gorges” Ithaca, NY. The day was one fantastic collage of indulgences...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Have Yourself a Slacker Little Christmas

I relax here beside my old synthetic scotch pine and realize that Christmas is one week away. There are seven days left to do all the things they say one has to do this time of year. And yet…

No presents have been wrapped.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Test for Heavenly Correctness

Christian, pretend you are a non-believer, working as a retail clerk. You say to a customer, “Happy Holidays.” 

Which of the following responses from the Christian customer would most likely make you want to become a Christian?

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Hole in Adam's Donut

When my kids were little they used to watch videos of Rob Evans “The Donut Man” singing “Life without Jesus is like a donut, ‘cause there’s a hole in the middle of your heart.”  You may have heard or perhaps even recited the God-shaped-hole cliché: In every human heart there is a God-shaped hole…

It’s true.  That “something missing” is a friendship with our Creator.

But Frank Ferrari, who spoke at Ephrata Community Church last Sunday, had further insight into the fact that we are created for relationship. Consider pre-fallen Adam. He enjoyed a level of intimacy with God that we can only dream of—completely transparent, guiltless, fearless, open and audible communication, twenty-four hours a day.

There was no hole in Adam’s donut.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Church Mutt

I once heard the darling Margaret Feinberg refer to herself as a “church mutt.” I can relate. My parents gave me a full range of church experience—dragging me off to “revival” meetings where I grew up in the south, and to conferences and vacation Bible schools  everywhere and any time the doors were open. As a result, I feel at home with any Bible-believing group of people. I am not denominationally pedigreed.

I am a church mutt.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hello Halloween (Part Two)

Thanks for showing up at my door for another Halloween post.  You’ll have to decide, by the end, whether this was a trick or a treat.

Monday, October 18, 2010

My Almost New Gay Friend

This morning I attended a Music and Arts Festival. Over Mexican food, I struck up a conversation with a red-headed drummer. We were having fun getting to know each other until the conversation turned to this:

(him) “So can I ask your advice on how to ask that guy out over there?”

(me) “That guy? You’re gay?”

Friday, October 15, 2010

Philly Mudslide Part Two

Today marks one week past the deadline for when they were supposed to contact Dave about a job offer. They haven't as much as emailed, or responded to his follow-up voice mail. Nor did they ever offer mileage reimbursement for the four-hour drive to the interview. Dave has decided he'd rather not work for a company with that kind of unprofessionalism. So we're back to square one and okay with it.

Meanwhile, I've added another lesson (hopefully) learned to this trial:

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Mudslide that Swallowed Philadelphia

Dave had a job interview Tuesday in which they pretty much told him they’d call by the end of the week with an offer.

But yesterday (Friday) dragged by, hour by snail-paced hour without a phone call (I’m sure the acid in my stomach increased by the fluid ounce with each passing minute once the afternoon hit.). Based on the way they talked at the interview, we figure that either a mud hole suddenly opened up and swallowed Philadelphia, or Bill Gates put in for the job right after Dave, agreeing to do it for free.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"I Belong to the Christian Faith" and Other Stupid Books

A book title in the children's section of the public library caught my attention today: I Belong to the Christian Faith (PowerKids Press, 2010). I decided to check it out and see whether the author of this secular book actually understands the Christian faith.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Jesus, the Smelly Room, and Why I am a PIG

Picture this. You’re driving through town on a Sunday morning and the marquee outside a church reads, One Time Guest Appearance Today—Jesus Christ.  Overcome with curiosity, you go in. If He is really here, you expect to see Him in the pulpit. Even the most egocentric pastor would defer to a visiting preacher of this caliber. But Jesus isn’t there. You look around. Perhaps He’s in the audience, content to  enjoy others’ gifts and talents. But there’s no Jesus in the pews.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Church Mystery Shopper (Read this if you are a pastor or church member)

I am on an extended stay out of town and so I got to be a church visitor this morning. I chose my place of worship based on the church's website (Take note, pastors. This is how people choose a place to visit in the 21st century. Your church website will be one's first impression.). It had a clean, professional appearance, and I figured their style is probably as up-to-date as their calendar of events. Another selling point for me was that they offered a coffee-and-donuts hour prior to service (because face it, people need to talk, and food has facilitated talking since the beginning of time). I put on my jeans and drove in a torrential rain to a place in the country that looked like Cracker Barrel. It was a flat-roofed warehouse with cafe tables set up outside that I imagined were used in good weather. I've been alone for almost three days, so I was looking forward to conversation like it was a plate of Homemade Chicken n' Dumplins waiting in there for me.

What I found were four school-age boys sitting against the wall in the only chairs available while their parents rushed around making preparations for the service. The coffee lady welcomed me with a "free-for-visitors" coffee and donuts commercial and walked away. I helped myself and soon realized that I had hydroplaned across flooded intersections to stand in the middle of a room caffeinating myself alone. When one of the boys got up I took a chair and read through my bulletin. The word "community" was scattered all over it, like little C-shaped grubs curled up to die. By the fiftieth checking of my watch the saints came marching in, about ten minutes until starting time.

The doors to the sanctuary opened and I took a seat in the middle, in front of some ladies that looked promisingly conversant. No one greeted me. For a moment I wanted to leave and drive back into town to the church with a steeple, vespers and senior citizens. But then I looked across the aisle and saw a young woman sitting alone--the only one in her row. Her hands were folded on her lap and she looked down. I had a horrifying thought: What if she's a visitor too? I walked across the room faster than Bill Hybels and introduced myself. "Mary" was a sweet, shy twenty-something girl with a welcoming smile revealing teeth that hung like yellow stalactites. She'd been a regular there since the church's beginning.

Announcements dragged on for twenty minutes (Apparently the congregation is illiterate and needs someone to read their bulletins to them).  When the people were told to "greet one another in that wonderful love of Jesus" I rushed to the ladies' room to pee out my Dunkin' Donuts and make it back to my seat in time to be welcomed by someone. I didn't miss anything.

The music was fresh and invigorating--an acoustic guitar and bongo drums backdropped by the rain falling outside the open windows. The preaching was even better--perhaps the best I'd heard in years. Conviction was so heavy I felt like crawling down the aisle and laying myself at the altar. Take James McDonald with a sweet dash of Billy Graham and turn him loose in a 40 x 80 warehouse and that's what you've got.

This place should have been bursting at the seams. Instead it had grown to a whopping sixty people in fifteen years, trying to be seeker-friendly while forgetting how to be people-friendly.

After the service, a middle-aged couple asked my name and where I was from. They were sincerely interested in getting to know me. Thank God they showed up. Otherwise, the overall feel of the place was that no one really cared about visitors beyond the obligatory, "Hi, how are you?" For all they knew, I could have been on the brink of suicide. I hate to admit it, but if I had been a non-believer visiting there this morning, I may not have walked into another church for a long time, if ever.  

Pastors, laymen--this is a wake-up call.

(Note: If you are not a believer and are thinking, "I knew it. They are no different than anyone else"--well, you'd be right. Romans 3:10 says "There is none righteous, no not one." Jesus said that a physician comes for the sick, not the healthy. The church is made of sick people in recovery; we are in the process of recovering from the fall to become the original loving selves we were meant to be (i.e., Jesus-like). Some are further along on the journey than others.)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Do Monks Bite?

My girls and I have taken up letterboxing. I recommend this as a great way to spend time with your kids while getting exercise, getting artsy, and getting fresh air outdoors. Our most recent hunt led us up a country road to a monastery, where we sampled a little taste of Catholicism. The conversations went something like this (more or less):

"Isn't this a beautiful place, girls? Maybe we'll see some monks."

"What are monks? Do they bite?"

"I don't think so."

"Wow! Crypts are awesome. Can we light a candle?"

"Not for $2.25. Remember, be reverent and respectful. Tiptoe. Whisper. Don't touch anything. Try not to breathe."

"What is that lady doing?"

"She has come here to pray."

"Why did she have to come here to pray?"

"She feels close to God here. It's a quiet place away from distractions. The Bible says a lot about getting away to a quiet place."

"But is she really closer to God here?"

"No. God is wherever we are. He has made His sanctuary inside us."

"Is that like sanitary?"


"I can't believe she came all this way just to pray."

"Remember, be respectful. Catholics are wonderful people."

"Are they Christians?"

"Some are. Just like some Protestants are Christians. Some really know and love Jesus."

"Oh. What's that bowl of water for?"

"That's holy water. You dip your hands in it when you come in. It makes you clean."

"Can I try it?"

"No! It harbors bacteria."

"But I thought it makes you clean."

"Never mind."

"Why do they always have Jesus on the cross?"

"To remember his death, which is very important. But I'm glad He's no longer there, aren't you?"

"Yeah. Is that a monk?

"That would be a monk."

"Do monks ever go shopping?"

"Not for video games. Just for food and toilet paper, I think."

"Why do they live here?"

"They have devoted their life to serving God."

"I want to demote my life to serving God."


"I want to serve God."

"Me too. But we choose to serve God in the worldly places, where the people are. Our love for God is shown in the way we treat bossy bosses, and mean teachers, and bratty sisters, and moody moms, and slobbish  kids who leave their clothes on the floor..."


"... and telemarketers, and slow waiters, and tailgaters, and grouchy old  men...."

"Monks are lucky."

"They never marry and have kids."

"Never mind. But I still like monks."

"Me too."

"Who is that old man?"

"They call him 'Father' so-and-so. I think he's the priest, kind of like the dad to all these monks, which are called 'brothers'."

"Do we have a priest?"


"Pastor John?"

"No. Our priest is Jesus. But He is our brother too."

"Cool. Our priest is our brother. And God is our Father?"

"You got it, girl."

Monday, August 16, 2010

My Last Build-a-Bear

Do you see what is wrong with this bear? If you do, chances are you like to sew. You may also like to quilt, can, freeze, knit, bake and raise goats. You probably enjoy reading directions.

I am personally afraid of my sewing machine, but when Ruthie asked me to help her with the Build-a-Bear kit she got for her birthday, I thought, How hard can it be? The box says, "Age 6+." I tossed aside the directions and showed her how to stitch around the thing. Like me, Ruthie is easily  bored, so I ended up finishing the project. I realized there was a problem when I started to stuff the last arm. I retrieved the directions and found that bear bottoms are better places for "whip stitches" than bear arms.

When I held Ruin-a-Bear up and examined her clubbed arm, I felt depressed and slightly mad at my friends who sew beautiful PJ's for their kids at Christmastime and put away peaches. I wanted to throw the bear against a wall and run away to an eternal library. Thankfully, when Ruthie saw her finished project, she grabbed it, hugged it, and said, "I'm going to sleep with her every night!" (Phew!)

I'm OK with not being good at everything I put my hand to. I know what I am good at. It's not sewing. I won't be opening a seamstress shop any time soon.

Do you ever come across people trying to do something they weren't meant to do? Anyone can  learn a new trick, but may not be a "natural" at it. It's a beautiful thing to stay happily on the path you landed on naturally (i.e., were gifted by God to do).

I can learn to sew, and perhaps should, for the sake of my four daughters. OK, that's it. I'm going to start. Tomorrow.

What comes naturally for you?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Return of Ferdinand (con't. from previous post)

Last night Ferdy returned to our pond, in all his white feathered glory.

A few days ago Dave received the email from Intel (every scientist's dream place to work) saying that they've chosen another candidate. Oregon would have been fun.

This afternoon I was driving through the rain on route 14 north of Troy. While reaching out into the wetness to throw the wayward windshield wiper back onto the windshield, I listened to a voice mail on Dave's cell phone (I don't recommend the use of cell phones while attempting to fix a broken windshield wiper as you're flying down the highway in the rain.). The message informed me that Dave will not be working for K. in his latex testing lab. This local company has also chosen someone else.

Now this will be a great relief to Dave, because although he would enjoy working with his good friend and former employee (that's right, I said "former employee"), he did not just complete three grueling years of grad school to test rubber gloves. Not even for a short time, only to say "Adios" to K. and leave him to go through the hiring and training process all over again.

I am fine with that. But I was hoping, just a teeny bit, that maybe this could be something Dave could do in the meantime. Which is ridiculous, because it's not what Dave wants to do and it would be very unfair to K. So I was being selfish, and crying in the rain, along highway 14.

Then I started to think about my friends, and other people I know, with bigger problems. Or should I say, with problems. Friends with sick kids. Lonely friends. Friends with confused, runaway kids that are breaking their mothers' hearts. Friends with chronic pain. And friends with lots of money and still without a clue as to who they really are in life.

Then I felt very small, and whiny. I imagined God saying, "This is about a duck?"  Yes, a stupid duck. A duck that will come back to us. Soon. Very soon.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My Daughter's Deep Dark Secret

I noticed this morning that Anna has been distant lately. An alarm went off inside me, since nothing in this world is as important as keeping my kids and hubby close. So I set aside my beloved laptop and squeezed Anna's big thirteen-year-old bubble butt next to me on the green la-z-boy. (Please understand that I am giving my daughter a huge compliment here. She takes after the other side of the family in this regard. I would have given anything to have a butt like that at that age. Or at any age for that matter.)

Putting my arm around her, I asked, "What's wrong? Why do you seem so far away?"

She answered in typical teenage fashion: Silence.

I tried to make it easy, to coax verbiage out of her like I sometimes wish Dave would do for me (Honey, you're sulking because I didn't notice your dress. Is that it? Getting better at this mind-reading thing, aren't I?)

I asked Anna, "Is it me?"


"Is it anyone in this house?"


"Is it something you did?"

More shaking of the head.

"Do you just need more lovin's?" That's usually it. But not this time.

"Honey, you know you can tell me anything."

She furrowed her brow and huffed. I knew she had something to say. Suddenly she burst into tears and I thought, This is serious. (Because not only does that side of the family have well-rounded buns, but they are normally very emotionally even-keeled.) This is the day my daughter is going to tell me that she is running a meth lab out back. Or dating a pedophile. Or wants to pierce her tongue. (Even mothers of the most angelic children have these kinds of thoughts flash through their minds in such moments.)

I braced myself. Maybe it won't be so bad. She wants to be a nun. Or join the army.

"It's Ferdy!" she sobbed. "He likes the P--'s pond better. He has friends over there and he's been lonely since Dorothy left and I miss him!" The snot was flowing now.

"This is about a duck?" I supressed a chuckle. "I mean, this is about your duck!"

I hugged her tightly, grateful for a problem that could easily be solved with a quick trip to Craigslist. After a few minutes of browsing through listings of five-dollar Pekins, laying hens and pedigreed rabbits, Anna jumped up and went to bake cookies.

What about you? Have you squeezed your teen today?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Nobody Messes with My (Unemployed) Man!

Yesterday someone called to check and see how things are going with Dave's job hunt. He meant well and I appreciate his effort to pick up the phone and let us know he cares. Let me repeat: I so appreciate that he cares.

But as the conversation developed, I felt less cared for and more judged. I could hear in his words that he views my hubby (whom he's never met) as a man who sits around burping and scratching when he should be out working. The man who just spent three years at perhaps one of the most competitive universities in the world, studying things like polymers alongside Chinese students who never sleep, working eighteen hours a day to come out with a decent grade in Cornell's graduate chemistry program.

Yeah, I'm bragging. I'm also pounding this keyboard too hard. Nobody messes with my man. My man who got home at one o'clock in the morning, slept for four hours, then awoke at five to make the one hour drive to school again--for six and sometimes seven days a week. This is not the kind of man who is content to sit on the couch all day and read Hunter magazine.

But I didn't point any of this out to my phone-a-friend friend. I politely thanked him for caring and said good-bye. 

I hesitate to write again about our "situation." Unemployment is a reproach, an icky disease that people discuss behind your back. It's not like having cancer. Cancer isn't your fault. But unemployment is, right? It's something you can fix, and should. That's why my friend called me up on the phone. Because he's a fixer.

That was yesterday. Tonight my hubby asked me to pray with him. So I knelt beside him on the couch (you know, where he drools all day instead of working) and tried to pay attention to his prayer. If you know him, you know that his voice can put you to sleep and I mean that in the kindest way. His is a deep, soothing voice, and his words are carefully thought out, one at a time almost. So I knelt there and soon was thinking about fashion, and wearing jeggings this winter, and big rings. Suddenly I felt the couch shaking. I put my arm on Dave's back and it was shaking, and I realized he was crying. "Oh God, please use us for your glory. Don't let us miss what you have for us, because we're too busy smelling the roses. Do with us whatever you choose. We give our lives to you."

You know what? Dave may never again wear a white lab coat and goggles. He may never realize his dream of developing something groundbreaking and useful for humans in this life. We may never get to take that cross country trip in an RV and show our kids America. But it's fine by me. Life is short--and then the real life begins.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Bracing myself in the doorway, looking down at the patchwork of earth below, I am paralyzed with fear. I have no choice but to jump. This is no thrill ride for an adrenaline junkie; the plane is going down.

The plane is a part of my life I’ve worked hard to keep airborne—a bright future constructed of all things done my way. It soared for a while. But so did my blood pressure and heart rate. Trying desperately to stay above the clouds, I turned into an enraged, maniacal freak racing to and fro in this manmade machine called human effort. I screamed orders into the cockpit, but the only one there was me—the one who’d attempted in vain to fly solo. And now that plane is falling from the sky.

So I jump. A momentous I-am-out-of-control-here-and-I-am-going-to-die terror seizes me. I wait for the merciful jerk of rope and harness, a strong arm to catch me. But there is nothing.

I am in free-fall, plummeting forward at the speed of a race car. 

The wind roars in my ears, telling me that all will end soon—my body will make a splat on hard rock. The air rushes in, drying my mouth, and I can’t cry out anymore. But I feel a tap-tap on my shoulder and am reminded to spread my arms wide and fly. It’s my guide. I can’t hear his voice, but I feel him bound tightly to me. So I remember to look, and to open up myself to the vastness of earth and sky. 

The plane is forgotten. I am no longer an eagle trapped aboard an aircraft. I am soaring on wings of freedom, resting against the mighty force of wind that carries me over dark valleys and raging water. There is no more fear. I know that at the precise moment, at just the right height—when the ground looms in my face, the parachute will open. All will be quiet. I’ll hear him again. And we’ll float gently together to a safe landing, on solid rock.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Applebees and Flat-Screened TV's

The other day I went to Applebees for a little R&R (Ruthie and Rebecca).  The two kids had Bookworm Club cards to redeem for free meals. Settling happily atop spinning seats, we ordered lunch, and began working our way through the trivia and puzzles on the kids’ menus. Not five minutes into our “girls’ day out,” the restaurant manager glided over asked my children what TV station would suit their dining pleasure. That’s when I looked around and counted nine flat-screen TV’s in our immediate seating area. Beyond that, I stopped counting after eighteen.

I wish I could tell you that in that instant, I politely told the man that the decision was up to me, the mother, and that my girls and I were spending quality time together--which for us, translates into the dying art of dinner conversation. I wish I could say that I sent him slinking away, red-eared, with the remote control cradled in his armpit. But caught off guard by his strange offer, I heard myself sheepishly reply,  “Do you get Animal Planet?” And with a click, our girl-time went down the drain as R & R sat mesmerized by a show on the rescue of abused and decaying dogs. When it got graphic enough to elicit more than a few frowns from neighboring tables, Channel Surfer turned the girls’ attention to another screen, flashing with transformable superheroes and villains.

Sitting there watching my two young barstool potatoes, I felt violated. I had not put my work on hold and driven twenty-five miles in a gas-guzzling Suburban and eaten transfatty food to let my kids vegetate in front of a TV screen.  And yet I realized this is where we’ve come to as a nation. Families that spend mealtimes staring at the tube, stuffing their mouths full and ignoring each other, are no longer confined to the American living room. “TV dinners” are now a dining-out sensation. Applebees, I guess it really is “a whole new neighborhood."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

@ Satan--This Post Will Tick You Off!

There’s a Facebook status I’ve dreamed of typing for quite some time now.  It goes something like this:

After five years, three months, 19 days and seven hours of unemployment (with grad school thrown in), Dave is finally, officially EMPLOYED!

Of course my FB friends will ask where, doing what, and I’ll reply with something like:
Research Associate, Harvard… We’re moving to Boston!!!! :)
Environmental Scientist, Honolulu (Hey, I can dream!)

If you  had told me that come May, 2010, Dave would still be sitting here filling out job applications, I’d have slapped you with a frozen deer steak. But here we are. The journey is long and stained with tears of frustration and self pity.

I remember the night several weeks ago that I lay in bed next to Dave, on my stomach, hugging my pillow. I looked at him and declared, “It’s time to pray a new prayer. There are people watching us, watching our lives. They are watching our faith in a God Who promises to provide. Didn’t the Israelites use that as leverage in their petitions to Jehovah? ‘What will the heathens think of You if you forsake us’?” We prayed together with new boldness, motivated by the desire to bring glory to God.

Nothing happened.

Oh God did provide—many times and in surprising and mysterious ways. He has continued to supply our every need, as He promised (Philippians 4:19). We have yet to go hungry, unclothed, and unhoused. When we need a job is up to Him to decide. There are lessons to be learned in the meantime. One day, one of them occurred to me (and became a real Facebook status):

God wills to be glorified as much in poverty as in prosperity, in suffering as in bliss.

And so I rest my case. There is a joy to be found that defies circumstance, a peace that mocks uncertainty. I have found my living hope, my anchor of the soul. His name is Jesus. When the Heavens are finally opened and the blessings poured out, let it not be said that my countenance changed.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Never Hula Hoop with Barbie

Yesterday our church ladies put on a Hawaiian themed pool party at the YMCA. Women were expected to swim for a while, then enjoy each other’s company looking like drowned rats. The idea was to create an atmosphere that would make unchurched women feel "comfortable" among us religious folks.


I secretly thought it was the most hairbrained idea I’d ever heard of. I mean, what woman over a size (fill in the blank) wants to socialize in a bathing suit? And that among strangers? I ached for us women expected to strip ourselves down to such vulnerability. Then I stopped aching, thinking no one would show up.

I had to show up, as I was asked to provide the entertainment for the after-pool party. I brought my girls, figuring at least they would have a good time. (Little girls are typically more comfortable in exposed skin than we grown-ups are.) I dumped my happy kids in the water and sat on the bench, still in my church clothes (I turn purple and shake uncontrollably in water less than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Leave me alone about it; I might die and you’d be sorry.).

I sat there, warm and dry, watching thirty women (a third of which were visitors) splash around, enjoying their bathing bash. They played ball and giggled with my girls (insert tinge of guilt here), and walked around the pool as uninhibited as naked toddlers. No one seemed to mind exposing blinding-white skin, spider veins, and thighs that look like the surface of a lake on a windy day. No one that is, except me.

But there was something so beautiful, so precious, about every wrinkle, dimple and sag exposed in that room. Those imperfections comprised one big gift exchange among my sisters. They were the language of unleashed love: "I love you enough to trust you to love me in return, just the way I am." Part of me—the part that doesn’t mind being cold—wanted to strip my rippled self and jump in with them.

After the pool party the drowned rats entered the community room for fun and games. Uh-oh. Could I compete with the fun they’d had in the Arctic? Well, I certainly tried. I taught them how to Hula dance, seeing as I just returned from a trip to You-Tube. (My daughters later told me I looked like a crippled chicken, trying to swing my booty like that.) Then I taught Darcie-the-Barbie how to hula-hoop. “Just watch me,” I told her. I hurled my hula-hoop directly to the floor three times. She got hers going instantly, and stood there modeling her spinning waist ring, saying she’d never tried it before. I think she was lying (wink wink).

Enjoy the following video: Wrinkled Ladies

Monday, April 12, 2010

Chainsaw Lady

      She’s a high school French teacher by day and a chain saw lady by night. I saw the evidence behind her garage door.
     “The first time I ever used one,” Brenda told me as she caressed the machine’s destructive blade, “was at eleven o’clock pm. I just had to try it. So we drove in the dark to the woods, took a fallen tree home, and I carved a bear.”
     That was a couple of years ago. This southern New York state mom has carved more than bears since then. In her garage is a museum of wooden raccoons, owls, dogs and other creatures that look so real I checked to make sure she kept her trash sealed tightly.
     Brenda has made a profitable business out of her wood-carving hobby. She showed me her pre-orders—pictures of pets customers had submitted to be made into lawn ornaments of discarded pieces of hemlock, silver maple, white pine, cherry.
     Two things fascinated me about Brenda’s work. One was that every facial line, whisker, and feather was created with a giant power tool. There was no fine tuning with a smaller, more delicate instrument; yet her designs are so intricate. I never imagined that a roaring, smoking chain saw could put a sharp point on the tip of a bear’s claws or comb the fine fur of a Newfoundland’s ears.
     The second thing I remember most was what Brenda said about getting her inspiration. “I don’t see a tree trunk sitting there on the ground. I see a bear inside it, begging to get out.” And so she goes to work setting the creature free.
     I’ve been undergoing my own such “liberation” at the hands of The Master Craftsman. It seems that God has looked beyond the chipped and broken edges of my fallen nature and recognized the person He intended. It’s an ongoing and painful process, this shaping me from who-I’ve-been to who-I’ll -be.
     I’m hacked at, sometimes in large and sudden chunks that leave me wondering what will be left. I keep telling myself that God has a picture in mind. He knows what He’s after.
     It was through a tree—cut and raised to bear God’s image—that Another was perfected long ago. His finished work seals my hope of completion.
     The tree—the Cross—is only the beginning.

“For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.” Hebrews 2:10

More pictures of Brenda's carvings can be seen at:!/album.php?aid=2009331&id=1655815995

Monday, March 29, 2010

Memo to a Homophobe

This post has been simmering in my thoughts for a while and a couple of recent conversations have finally made it boil over and steam up my blog. Take caution.

In the past seventy-two hours I have heard two Christians on separate occasions call gays “queer” and suggest that they may be pedophilic. (Excuse me while I throw up.) This is the kind of thing that makes me embarrassed to align myself with chrischuns and makes us more persecuted than necessary. Jesus said, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake.” Last I checked, name-calling, insulting, shunning, snubbing, profiling and stereotyping are not righteous.

I know some gay people and they are very kind. Matter of fact, I could totally be friends with the likes of Ellen DeGeneres (don’t you dare play games with her last name) and Rosie O’Donnell. Admittedly, I’m not a TV watcher and don’t know all the details of their lives, but from what little I’ve seen, those women seem fun and funny. I’d rather spend time with them any day than with a bunch of dried-up religious prudes or hypocrites who separate themselves from gays and their TV shows, yet spend hours watching trashy heterosexual back-seat behavior, violence and swearing to boot. Pharisees aren’t “fair, you see.” (Did you know the New Testament Greek word for Pharisee is “separate?” Selah.)

Besides, Jesus likes Ellen and Rosie. If that bothers you, you don't like Jesus. You just think you do. Re-read the New Testament. It was the religious He condemned daily in the temple; after that He enjoyed the company of His sinner friends in their heathen homes--not excusing their sin, but setting them free from destructive lifestyles of every kind, loving them to the Truth. (If you've never cracked open the New Testament, I challenge you to read about this God-Man called Jesus and see if you don't fall in love with Him.)

If you are still reading this, you may wonder what my stance, as a professing fundamaniacal Jesus freak, is on homosexuality. I don’t believe it was God’s intent, and I believe the Bible clearly condemns it (for good and loving reasons, but that's another post). But that has nothing but nothing but nothing but nothing but nothing but NOTHING to do with how I view or treat gays. If the sin factor plays such an important role in choosing your friendships, you should have nothing to do with me.

Friday, March 19, 2010

For Jobless People Only

If you are unemployed, or married to someone unemployed, as a result of this unrelenting recession—I am here to tell you what you already know but need to hear and feel, up close and personal. You are not alone. There are many, many people—blue collar and white collar, in your same situation. I know your daily struggle to keep your face above the floods of despair that threaten to take you under.

(By-the-way, if someone says the recession is over, bless his pea-pickin’ little heart. He must not be looking for a job.)

Here’s another thing I know. I know how hard you’re working (or your spouse is working) to find work. I know the hours—hours it takes to scroll through job postings and fill out applications, hundreds of them, hoping to hear back from just one.

I know the disappointment of seeing the same old same old positions listed over and over again.

I know that one can memorize several pages of and the same eight jobs that have been posted at major companies’ websites for months.

I know that not all job fairs are equal. I know that there are unknowing people who can actually laugh at you from their little job fair booth when you ask if they need a chemist.

I know what it is to not care anymore that you may have to move to a frozen –over place like Montana.

Or take a job doing the very thing you went to back to school to try to get away from.

I understand your right to refuse that job, knowing how wrong it would be to take it until something better comes along two months later. I will never judge you for that. It is right. 

I also understand that it is more difficult to get a job if you are over-qualified than under-qualified. I know how well-meaning friends and family members sit around and talk about how you should be willing to take just any job, not realizing that you would take any job--if only you could get hired. I know how you want to wring the necks of those who don't understand that a warehouse manager will not hire a scientist to package parts.

I know what it’s like to find out that because of Equal Opportunity laws many (if not most) of the positions listed online were already filled internally before they were posted.

I know the hopes and joys of getting an interview and going out to celebrate because it went so well…and I know the blow you feel when you read that follow up email.

I know that having connections and “it’s who you know” doesn’t always matter.

I know the pain of being judged over the fact that you still don’t have a job.

I don’t write these things to be complaining. I’m not trying to garner pity (I get enough from myself! ;) . I am simply reminding you, once again, that you are not alone. I know those details that can’t be written about, those things you don’t dare mention to anyone.

I know how you want someone to care and that’s all. You haven’t got your hand out. I care.

In my head, I know God is at work to find us work. It just takes a while of actively seeking Him in prayer and in His Word to get what I know in my head down into my heart, to the point that my life reflects faith. I’m not always there. I want you to know that too. I know what it’s like to not always be there.

Soon Dave will have a job, the Lord willing, and this will be over. Until then, “when we are faithless, he remains faithful.” 2 Ti. 2:13

Friday, March 5, 2010

Mrs. Bigot

I have a perfectly wonderful husband who keeps me very happy. But you know, I've been thinking. Perhaps I'm foolish in limiting myself to just one man. Maybe it's time I explore my options; there are plenty of other good men out there. Aren't I being awfully narrow-minded to say that Dave is the one and only one for me?


I use such absurdity to answer those who would suggest that I'm "narrow-minded" in my belief that Jesus is the only way to God. Call me a religious bigot, but there are reasons I'm a One-God woman:

First of all, Jesus said Himself that He's the only way to God. Not the best way or the preferred way--but the only way.

Then He backed up His claim by willingly dying to save me from eternal death. No other "path to God" is paved with such love.

He resurrected to save me to eternal life. I figure that if He has that much power over His own life, I owe Him the chance with mine.

Jesus satisfies me. Completely. I tried other "men"--I studied world religions (including the non religion called humanism). I came up empty in my quest for meaning, purpose, peace, and fulfillment. It was only in a person--a relationship with my Creator--that I found the essence of life.

Only the one true and living God offers me the guidance and protection of a father, the comfort and nurturing of a mother, the friendship and faithfulness of a brother, and the intimacy and devotion of a lover. I need look no further.

"Almighty God, you have made us for yourself. And our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you." --St. Augustine

"I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst." John 6:34

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Humility and How I Obtained It*

     I once attended a leadership training seminar in which a teacher opened her session with the question, "How humble are you?" I couldn't resist shouting out, "Very!"
     That's the treacherous nature of humility. It is the strange virtue that disallows one to be conscious  of  it. My husband possesses such a virtue. But just to make sure, I once looked at him and pointedly asked: "David Bogdan, are you humble?" I smirked, curiously awaiting his reply. Both "yes" and "no" would have been "wrong" answers. Without too much delay, he said, "It's all relative."
     But there's more to humility than merely not being puffed up. Jesus talked of being "poor in spirit" (Matthew 5:1), i.e. teachable, "needy" in the healthy sense of knowing you have a lot to learn. I thought about this recently while listening in on a discussion about what it looks like to be humble. A man said he cannot receive from teachers or preachers that are a little too pious or self-confident. As he repeated for the third time that he chooses what internet preacher to listen to based on his or her humility quota, the irony of his words struck me: How humble is he? Isn't humility having the ability to hear from anyone, leaving it up to God to handle that person's pride?
    Furthermore, the apostle Peter admonished Christian slaves to honor and respect masters that were harsh and unreasonable (proud), as well as those who were kind and gentle (I Peter 2:18). If God expected that much from first century slaves, should He not expect a humble attitude from me toward a minister who's lacking in humility?
    Some say that you can't be humble and at the same time know that you are. Let me take it one step further: Those that are truly humble are aware that they have an incurable, deep-rooted pride of the most sinister sort. humble are you?    

*Humility and How I Obtained It is a fictitious book title, a joke told by the beloved (and very humble) Bible teacher Bob Mumford.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Love is Not for Fraidy Cats

John thinks the opposite of love is fear. At least that's what he told me in his first letter. I had always believed--no doubt along with most people--that love's opposite is hate. I'm sure that's also true, but consider what the apostle wrote in his epistle (are you tongue-tied yet?):

"There is no fear in love" (I John 4:18). John went on to say that "he who fears has not been perfected in love." That got me to thinking.

Fears what? What do I fear more than anything else? What do you fear the most? Maybe for you it's death, or the loss of a loved one, but if we were to be honest, I wonder how many would agree that we mostly fear something so silly it's embarrassing to admit: We fear the same people who fear us. We worry about what others think while they worry about what we think. We are afraid of fraidy cats--people who blush and  sweat and tremble and get blotchy red necks and butterflies in the pit of their stomach just like we do. No matter how long a string of letters trail behind their name.

What if there were such a thing as "fearless love?" What if we could find ourselves at a place of perfection, completion, in this kind of love? How would it change our lives if we loved without a trace of fear? I've been thinking about this for a while, and I've concluded that with "fearless love" for people I would...

never be intimidated

express myself without inhibition

walk in transparency

not fear being judged

freely admit to my stupid mistakes and laugh at myself

risk reaching out to those who might wound me again

request that interview

ask for that endorsement

apply for that position

start that business

preach that sermon

befriend that neighbor

forgive my husband

engage the cashier

schedule dinner guests (This is huge for me; I have an irrational mental block about hospitality and cooking. Which is indeed silly; I make a mean lasagna. Besides that, I know that people don't come primarily for the food; they come for friendship.)

dance like nobody's looking

avoid the use of clichés

What would you add to this list? What would it look like if you could love without a trace of fear?

Too bad it can't happen. Too bad we have to settle for very human-like human love--love that loves with reservation. Love that loves while carefully protecting "self." Love that is afraid to let go. Love that's chained by fear--fear of rolling eyes, fear of being spent, or "dissed," or under appreciated....

If only there were someone that had this "fearless love" and could somehow work it into our DNA so that we grew in it, became perfected in it. If only we could inherit this kind of love, as a father passes certain genes onto his children. What if there were some type of, say, heavenly Dad who recognized our fearful, less-than-perfectly-loving condition and offered to do something about it.  And we took Him up on it. Of course it would involve quite the transformation. A spiritual heart transplant of some sort. A mystical transfusion of blood. A receiving of that heavenly love in ourselves first. But oh, what we could do with this new and fearless love!

"And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him." I John 4:18

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I Corinthians 13 for Evangelicals, Charismatics and Otherwise Very Nice People

Though I speak in tongues and prophesy with shocking accuracy… though I fiercely defend truth and valiantly guard good doctrine… though I silence the skeptic with skillful debate and bedazzle Christian minds with Biblical insights about love—but have not love—I am a bothersome ringing in God’s ears.

Though I weep for the nations and intercede for cities… though I have faith that scatters demons, lengthens  limbs or brings multitudes to their knees… though my days be marked by fasting, my nights with fervent prayer and my years by serving on plague-ravaged soil—but have not love—to God I am nobody impressive.

Though I give lavishly to survivors of earthquakes,  passionately pursue justice for the enslaved, care for our precious earth, fight tirelessly for the rights of the unborn… or the hated; I have helped others, as I should, and that is good. But if I have not love—it does not get me an ounce of credit with God.

Love suffers long and silently under unfair assumptions and cruel accusations—never feeling the need to defend or explain.

Love freely expresses genuine happiness over another’s success.

Love does not casually slip her good deeds into conversation.

Love prefers to others-promote.

Love cannot remember yesterday’s insensitive remarks. It has forgotten last year’s rude comment.

Love is not paranoid or suspicious; there is no fear in love.

Love is not quick to correct.

Love can take correction.

Love’s first response to injury is compassion—not exposure.

Love is crushed at the news of an enemy’s failure.

Love puts up with immature babble. 

Love patiently bears with incessant whining, yet is not manipulated by it.

Love is gracious under unprofessionalism, never feeling the need to “help” by pointing out where improvement is needed.  Yet it knows when to confront with fearless grace.

Love is not short with the telemarketer or stingy with the slow waiter.

Love does not get even with the in-law; it dares to get flowers instead.

Love spends itself caring for the aged mother, never mindful of lost opportunities.

Love holds close the distant teenager. It keeps holding tight around rigid arms.

Love never fails.  Philosophies, programs, causes, books, lifestyles, facelifts, ministries, sermons, bailouts, heroes, romances, cash, adventures, diet plans, dating profiles, miracle drugs, business ventures, spouses, children, parents and friends may disappoint, fail and vanish away.

The sum total of all of our wisdom and knowledge combined is but a speck of dust compared to what we don’t yet know, but need to know. It will be done away with, when that which is all we ever needed comes to us.

It is time to put away childish thinking, living, behaving—childish loving.

One day we will see clearly the essence of love. We will see Him face to face, and we will know ourselves  and each other as He has always  known us.

People talk of the greatness of faith and hope. But one day there will be no more need for those. Only love will remain. For it is the greatest.

(See the original I Corinthians 13 for the truly inspired version.)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

She Makes Men out of Kool-Aid

     Today I went to the mailbox and found an envelope with a small red Kool-Aid stain wrapped around the edge. Rather than discarding the soiled piece of mail, the sender had taken an ink pen and outlined the front part of the stain, transforming it into a perfect, red-faced lumberjack. On the back of the envelope was a cute red bear with a heart tattoo on its arm.
     "Just like Georgia," I smiled.
     Georgia does that with life too. When unexpected turmoil gets splashed into her existence, she dons her spiritual beret and quickly beautifies what most of us would prefer to toss into the "no thank you" bin.
     Here's what I mean. Seven years ago her (then) fiance was diagnosed with cancer.  She had a hospital wedding ceremony anyway, while he was undergoing treatment. The local newspaper showcased a radiant bride next to a hairless groom in a hospital bed hooked up to an IV.
     Three years ago Georgia's obstetrician informed her that since her five months-pregnant womb had completely emptied itself of amniotic fluid, the baby boy inside would most likely be born dead, or at best suffer severe brain damage. Georgia refused to give in to fear, notifying the doctors that God willing, her baby would be fine. Two weeks ago, little Garrett was romping around my kitchen wearing Dave's hunting boots, healthy as can be.
     Georgia struggles to make ends meet, on a regular basis. Yet I'll never forget the day she called to offer me half of her tax return because Dave was out of work. I refused the offer, but knew it would have thrilled her to put the money in the mail even though she was much more in need, with four little mouths to feed and no husband at home.
     I was shocked to learn one day, after knowing Georgia for several years, that she suffers from an auto-immune disorder. She had never once complained of her symptoms.
     And there's her past. It's the real reason she should be wearing a frown, rather than penning smiles on envelopes and constantly wearing one too. You see, Georgia's birth mother tried to scald her to death as an infant in a steaming bathtub. She was rescued by social services, only to be placed in one fostering hell home after another.
     Georgia knows what it's like to have the blinds shut and door locked every afternoon when  you're twelve years old.... She still remembers the way they laughed at school when she arrived wearing the contents of "the bucket" she'd been forced to empty at three in the morning on an icy driveway.... The memories are as fresh as the road kill served for suppers--skunk, raccoon, squirrel and woodchuck. "If it's still warm it's safe" he'd always say.
     And there were the cruel and unusual punishments--hours standing against the wall trying desperately to not let the quarter slip off...but she was so tired. And that's when the coffee was brewed. And forced down, black, at four in the morning.
     How Georgia hates the smell of coffee!
     Sometimes I forget when she comes to visit. "But this is hazelnut!" I always say. We laugh.
     Georgia should be throwing Kool-Aid stained envelopes away.
     One day she did start over though. It was in a country church with simple folk. The preacher told them Jesus could make their scarlet-stained heart as white as snow. Georgia ran forward and a lifetime of misery rushed out in tears. "If you don't love me, I can't love me. And no one else will," she told God.
     I have only scratched the surface of the untold hardships of Georgia's life. The rest are too dark and painful to mention here. Yet since that day at the altar, twenty years ago, Georgia's worn a smile as big as her heart. It's funny. She's the one that cheers me up. Me with a husband at home. Me with the happy childhood memories. Healthy me. (Slightly more) wealthy me. I can only conclude that I need a little more of the Jesus Georgia has.
     And a beret.

(This story written with permission.)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Why I Don't Make New Year's Resolutions

I don't make New Year's Resolutions; I make daily ones. I got the idea from an old prophet.

In the Old Testament book of Lamentations (chapter three), Jeremiah is having one big pity party. He feels the pain of Israel's broken resolutions and is about to give up on everything and everybody, including himself and God (who Jeremiah is sure must be against him as well). Until...

     "But this I call to mind,
      and therefore I have hope:

      The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases
      his mercies never come to an end;
      they are new every morning."

Suddenly poor old Jeremy remembers God's mercies (Hebrew, hesed), or covenant/steadfast love. At the end of the day--at the end of his rope, his hope--that is what remains. New mercy will be waiting in the morning, after his long, dark night of affliction.

From Jeremiah I learn that God's mercies are new every morning--not every year. That means if I fail at keeping my latest resolution, I get a fresh start within twenty-four hours.

Actually, I don't have to wait until the cock crows. I believe Jeremiah is simply telling us that God is abundantly merciful, always merciful, instantly merciful. When the apostle Paul told the Philippians to forget the past and reach for what lies ahead (chapter three), he meant the past--whether it's ten minutes, or ten years in the past. God's mercies--his hesed--means that my future is one fresh start after another, starting now. No failure of mine can interrupt "the steadfast love of the Lord."

So here goes. My New Day Resolutions:

Today I resolve to limit myself to one Lindt Truffle and no more.

I resolve to eat an unfulfilling-but-healthy apple.

I resolve to get outside and walk, unless it's in the single digits. Then I resolve to move to Florida.

I resolve to figure out what's for dinner by noon. I resolve to have it on the table by five (-ish). I resolve to smile sweetly and bite my tongue until it bleeds if they don't like what I make. I resolve to hire a cook.

I resolve to not raise my voice at the children.

I resolve to be a respectful, non-nagging wife.

I resolve to write a blog post (check).

I resolve to get myself in bed by ten o'clock so as to awaken tomorrow well before the kids do and enjoy an early morning tea with God.

I resolve to run into God's ready arms if I fail.

I resolve to listen when He tells me I am loved anyway, and that tomorrow will be a fresh start.