Monday, January 31, 2011

Closed Doors and Open Windows

“I will never be the same again,
I can never return, I’ve closed the door.
I will walk the path, I’ll run the race
And I will never be the same again.”

~ lyrics by Geoff Bullock ~

It is true, that none of us will be, or can be, exactly the same person tomorrow that we were today or yesterday.  That door is closed and sometimes that is certainly for the best.

At other times, we have regrets about things that "the doors of life" have been closed upon.  Past friendships that did not survive the rough and tumble of life, promotions that never came through, opportunities we waited for in vain.

And thus, we will never be the same again.  On the other hand, we can choose to "walk the path, and run the race" that is set before us.

The old cliche says that "God never closes a door, but what He also opens a window."

I've faced some pretty sternly closed doors in my day, but I have also found some pretty amazing windows of blessing open to me that I never saw until the door I wanted so badly to go through was firmly closed.

Thank heavens, the One who distinguishes our truest needs from our transitory wants, is the One in charge of both closed doors and open windows.

God bless you - Marsha

Today's IOWT is hosted by Miriam Pauline at MiPa's Monologue.  Please stop by and leave a comment. 

Packing Wrinkles

Black and White Cartoon of a Girl Carrying a Heavy Suitcase clipart

It all comes down to square inches - not feet, mind you - but inches.  And there are precious few of them available when there are three women going cross country in one vehicle.

Naturally, given our disparate stages of life, different things are important to me (the older lady in our trio) as contrasted to them (the two young women on this trip).  For myself, and I would suspect for most people of my age and gender, the watchword has to be comfort.  Comfortable shoes, comfy clothes, and at the end of a long, hard day of driving, a comfortable bed.

While I am not intuitive enough to know for sure what their respective key words for the trip might be, I am pretty sure appearance rates higher for them than for moi. 

Here is how I have divined this - their cosmetic bags approximate the size of my suitcase.  Now I am not opposed to cosmetics.  As they say, "Even an old barn needs a little new paint now and then."

But when you are in proud possession of "accomplishment lines" -  known in the vernacular as wrinkles - well, putting a little makeup on is like a drop of water into the Grand Canyon. It may do a little something, but it won't do much.  They, of the dewy complexions, do not need much moisturizer, so their potions seem to me a bit like gilding the lily.  But that is just me.

On the other hand, they seemed a bit perplexed as to why I would take up valuable packing space with both my electric heating pad and my electric throw (lap blanket for the uninitiated).

Let's face it, you just cannot adequately explain aching bones to those who have not yet experienced them.  It is like trying to describe heaven to an atheist; it is pointless, until the atheist has a different viewpoint obtained through a different personal experience.

So here we all are.... driving across the boundless plains of America.  The two of them looking good, and me just trying to stay warm and agile enough to exit the vehicle when we next stop to eat.

Now there is a whole fruitful area of discussion for our next visit.  Eating: what they ingest, what I digest, and what neither of us can comprehend about the other.  ...  Until next time, travel safely.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Across America - Again

 {Please note: The new posting schedule referenced in New Wrinkles On the Way does not begin until sometime in February.}

Although the label on this post is Travel with the Youngs, this one should properly say "travel with the young", even though I am not.  That is to say, my husband is not making this trip as he has to keep Holly,our little dog, safe from marauding mailmen and the like.  Work and other responsibilities might also have something to do with it.

The fact is that he has graciously cut me loose this week to return to North Carolina, for the second time in four months.  The week after I arrived home in October, we received the news of a very serious diagnosis, and now a gravely ill family member could use a little company and a lot of support.  And it will be my pleasure to travel with the young, as my daughter and my niece are making the trip with me.

Thus, while the circumstances occasioning this trip are difficult, the actual trip itself should prove to be a lot of fun and fellowship since we all three love a good road trip.

Of course, the time of year isn't ideal for cross-country travel.  As my daughter's husband said, "You know, it is winter across the rest of the country."  (They have to remind one another of this from time to time given that they live in the Los Angeles area.)

Yes, it is a little nerve-making to contemplate a 2,700 mile trip with just us three chickens in the coupe (actually my Buick is a four-door sedan, but it does have a sun roof).  However, we each feel there is a purpose in our making this trip, at this time, and we are excited about it.

I hope to post from N.C.; but we will have to see how it goes.  I already know how it starts, though, and that is with my morning devotions today, as I read Psalm 84:5.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on a pilgrimage. (NIV)

A pilgrimage is defined as a "long journey, especially one of exalted purpose or moral significance."  I admit that this sounds a bit high-flown to describe a trip by two young women, accompanied by one older one, in order to visit a sick relative. 

We are, as my sister says, "a tiny little family."  When my parents relocated our family from the Midwest to the West Coast in 1959, we left behind literally dozens of cousins, none of whom we now know.  There are only a handful of us who really count as family.

You know what they say about family, you get to choose your friends, but family...well...

I am reminded of a story about a little boy who was asked how he knew that God was wonderful.  He replied, "Because He loves everybody in the whole world.  We only have four in our family and sometimes we don't even like each other very much."

Just so.  But when the big questions are in play, things like life, death, love, and loss; well, we seem to find the grace to like each other enough to pull together.  And I think the Father smiles.  Because after all, He loves the whole world.
                                      & & &
The the King will say to those on his right, 'Come you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. ...I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." Matthew 25:34-36

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wardrobe Malfunctions

{Please note:  The new posting schedule referenced in New Wrinkles On the Way does not begin until sometime in February.}

Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.        (from Waldon by Thoreau)

"You are going to buy some new clothes to go to Ireland, aren't you?", said my husband.

Now I haven't bought anything new since I retired nearly two years ago.  Well, almost nothing. I have shoes older than some of my grandchildren.  Why would I need something new to wear, in order to visit a place that is cold and rainy?

Cold damp weather requires layering and I am of the opinion that, when you layer, it does not matter what you layer with; the current fashion trend of "layering" everything including socks and vests, and neck scarves notwithstanding.  Have these people never used a mirror?  Does the word bulky mean nothing to them?

Once, when preparing for a very chi-chi business conference in  Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe, I found myself in the aisle at Nordstrom's looking for a suitably casual, yet business-like, sweater since this was one of those soirees where you are supposed to look fashionably "casual" in something you have actually spent hours putting together. 

Well, I was suffering from strep throat at the time, but CEOs and other power-honchos do not care about picayunish little things like a high fever or near-hospitalization, not when there is a new five-year plan in the offing.

This is particularly true if you are one of the people whose job it is to don your casual finery and trot out your best pie charts.  So there I was, slogging down the aisles at Nordstrom's, under the influence of not nearly enough ibuprofen, and wishing I could just get home and swill down some non-alcoholic nighttime-snuffling-sneezing-coughing medicine.

This context may explain why I bought a dark brown sweater to match some slacks I never wore.  I never wear brown.  I don't like brown.  It is the color of dirt, and boring cars, and badly cut suits.

I am a "summer" - I have had my colors done, thank you very much; and I don't do brown.  Generally I do not like to wear dark colors.

But I always seem to fall back on some variation of brown, dark grey, black or navy when the chips are down.  I recall singing at the Oakland Civic Auditorium at age 16 after having won a Northern California  talent contest - wearing a little brown corduroy dress, with little brown gloves, and yes, brown shoes.  I looked like a house wren - small and unimpressive - and sounded pretty much like that, too.

We went to Italy a few years ago, and what did I do?   I bought mostly black and navy blue for the trip.  I helped one Appleseed's sales woman make her quota that month.  And for what?

Black and navy blue - for Italy?  Good grief - I got there and every other woman I saw was wearing fuchsia, carmine, azure, and celedon.  And here I was, once again doing my best wren-routine. Or maybe this time it was a black-capped chickadee.

Now David says I ought to have something new for Ireland, and by the way, since we will be celebrating his birthday there on St. Patrick's Day, he thinks it should be green.  Oh, for Pete's sake - I don't even like kelly green.  Mint green, maybe, even a certain hue of  sea mist, but kelly as in the wearin' o' the green?  Not happening.

If Ireland is really going to require new clothes I may just stay home.  I'm just saying...
Have a good day, and please wear whatever colors you like.  ...Marsha

Monday, January 24, 2011

Best-worst-and everything in between

"Your worst days are never so bad 
that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace.
And your best days are never so good
that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”
                                                                                        ~ by Jerry Bridges ~

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" - so began Charles Dickens classic book A Tale of Two Cities.  We humans seem to love to compare and contrast between best/worst scenarios.

However, most of life is lived somewhere in between the best and worst case scenarios.  And sometimes it is there that we need God's grace the most.
                                              & & &
Once, when a loved one's life hung in the balance, as we were praying about the outcome, someone said to me, "I will accept it whichever way it goes.  Whether God heals him or whether God takes him home."

With quiet dread I thought, but there is another possibility.  He could survive, but be disabled for life.  "Oh, dear Lord, please, not that."  But we live in a fallen world.

The outcome was T-10 paraplegia (mid-chest), and it changed the course of our lives.  Heartbroken with grief, worn down with the ceaseless "whys" - we could not change what had occurred; and now our task was to accept what God did not cause, but had allowed in His sovereign wisdom.  Now we needed grace to learn to walk more humbly dependent upon God than ever before.  We did not always do it well and sometimes we did not do it at all.
I had long known that I would always need his grace even on my better days, but now I was to learn that I was never beyond His reach, even on my worst days.  It was a hard lesson.  The worst lesson - and the best lesson.

I read once:
There is so much good in the worst of us
And so much bad in the best of us
That it hardly behooves any of us
To talk about the rest of us.
(from the Marion Kansas Record by Edward W. Hoch)
Some choices can never be undone, some consequences must be lived out daily.  Thus, it behooves us to make our daily choices carefully and prayerfully.                                                    
                                                   & & &
"Choose you this day, whom you will serve" said Joshua to God's chosen people.  And to make the choice crystal clear the potential blessings or curses (consequences) were called out on a fateful day, as the voices rang out back and forth between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim.  (Deuteronomy 11:26 - 29. Joshua 8:30-35)

Thankfully, we live under the New Convenant, and God's grace is present when we choose the best, available when we are at our worst, and sufficient for everything in between. 
                                              & & &
Today's IOWT is hosted by Jennifer at Scraps and Snippets

Sunday, January 23, 2011

New Wrinkles On The Way

February marks six months of blogging for me.As I approached that marker I had to make a few decisions about about blogging in general, and about Spots and Wrinkles in particular.

First, I needed to decide whether to continue blogging.  It really does require a certain time commitment, and I wanted to determine whether I was using my time productively.  I realize that there are thousands of blogs out there and mine may only be adding to the general clutter.  (I am pretty sure that I couldn't add to the general confusion, as that seems to be at maximum levels already.  I'm just saying ...)  :)

However, each time I have been just about ready to close this blog down (or as they say, "blow this Popsicle stand") one of you has sent me a note to say that you found something genuine, encouraging, or insightful in something I had posted.  Thus, I decided to continue.  I truly value your feedback.

Secondly, I am by nature a fairly well organized person, and the willy-nilly approach to topics that I stumbled into has felt somewhat disjointed to me.  So instead of continuing to free flow from my little stream, I have decided to channel my contributions - however small they may be - into a more structured schedule of topics.  Several of you have set a valuable example to me in doing so on your own blogs.  Thank you.

Finally, while I am a Christian first - and I hope foremost - and I enjoy writing on spiritual topics, not all my posts will be in that vein.  Some will be literary, some news related, and some just ... well, as my granddaughter, Simone would say, "Random."

Thus, I hope to adhere to the following schedule as often as possible:

Mondays - Wrinkled Brows - Thoughts on a Quote or Word for the week

Tuesdays/Wednesday - In Other Words - I hope to continue to participate in this enjoyable blogging group.

Thursdays/Fridays - Visiting Spots - a review or quick recap with comments on various blogs I have read throughout the week, that captured some kind, funny, or insightful thought.  Kind of like an evening stroll around your neighborhood.

Saturday - Visiting the Youngs - may or may not write on Saturdays, but if I do, that will be when I post on happenings around our little corner of the world.

Added after the initial post:
[Well, case in point as to why I need to become better organized about my blogging - I forgot to include an occasional series tentatively titled A Christian in Corporate America - a career retrospective on my experiences from the back offices to the board room as an officer in a publicly traded corporation.  Hopefully, I can find the notes I have been jotting down for the past couple of years.  Wish me luck.]

                                        & & &
I have no idea whether any of the above will appeal to anyone at all.  But I plan to give it my best effort, and then re-evaluate in another six months.

Question:  How do you plan your blogging topics or schedule?  What works best for you?

I'll look forward to hearing from you. ... Marsha 

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Spot of Sonshine

                                             Image Ref: 15-30-15 - Sunrise, Viewed 10613 times
It has been cold and foggy here in Northern California for weeks now.  And frankly, we are just not that hardy a bunch, as we do not have much opportunity for cold-weather-training, often having months of nothing but sunshine.  Thus, when inclement weather does arrive, we are sometimes ill-prepared to face it with a cheerful disposition. 

Well, I should just speak for myself - I am not that prepared to face it cheerfully.  As some of you have read, I just do not "do cold well." I do not snow ski, snowboard, snow sled, or snow-anything.  It is why that whole "Tourist Rush to the North Pole" business freaked me out so much.  I am still not over that.

Anytime the thermometer drops much below 60 degrees, I wear mittens; sometimes in the house.  However, our weatherman has assured me that beginning tomorrow, we are in for days and days of nothing but sunshine.  Hallelujah!

                                         & & &
My mother only took one plane trip in her entire life.  Her generation did not go airport hopping much.  I was concerned for her, given that she was such an inexperienced traveler, and I really wanted her to have a good time.  She was going to visit her mother in Southern Illinois, which at that time (over 25 years ago) meant she had to go through Dallas and then fly on to St. Louis.  She would then drive the remainder of the way.

When she came home, I asked her how the trip went.

"Well, I missed my first connection in Dallas and had to wait for the next plane.  And then they sent my luggage to Chicago instead of St. Louis, so I didn't have any clothes the first day and a half after I got to my mother's house......"

At this point in her narrative, I interrupted with, "Oh, Mom, I am so sorry the trip was not a good experience for you."

She immediately began to smile and said, "But it was."

Then she said something I have never forgotten.

"Marsha, I have seen a sunrise at 35,000 feet; and it made the whole trip worthwhile."

                                                      & & &

"But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings." Malachi 4:6

I don't know about you, but in my life, on my spiritual journey, I have sometimes found that I had missed my connection to God's family, my self-esteem had somehow or other landed up in a different time zone than the one I was occupying, and I just was generally discombobulated.

I found myself with no garments of praise, and although my ticket had been punched, as it were, I seemed to be going nowhere fast.

And then, and then .... the Son of Righteousness would once again arise in my life.  There would be healing in His wings, my luggage was returned to me full of testimonies of praise and garments of joy.

Yes, in my life, and I hope in yours, too, I have seen a Sonrise, at just the right time in someone's life.  And that, my friend, has made the whole trip worthwhile.

                                                & & &
Wishing you a day filled with Sonshine. ...Marsha

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tourist Rush - at the North Pole ???

Are you kidding me?  Can this possibly be right?

Well, as my dad used to say, "It may not be right, but that's the way it is."

The Sacramento Bee today ran an article that stated there is a planned tourist rush to the North Pole, expected to take place later this spring in honor of the 100th anniversary of the first two expeditions to arrive there in 1911 and 1912.
North Pole            The North Pole

Okay.... I admire those long-ago travelers' courage; but nothing, and I do mean nothing, would induce me to spend days, weeks, or whatever is involved, to personally go to the North Pole.

And what can they (those intrepid travelers who are planning to go) be thinking?  As it turns out, nothing very lofty.

Some of them are what are called "extreme vacationers" - a term that apparently refers to those who choose to visit destinations that are guaranteed to include accommodations ranging from poor to none, with beds that are not, in fact, beds at all, but some type of bedroll or cot-contraptions.

Most of the visitors plan to fly into the nearest landing strip to make their brief sojourn.  A few plan to fly part way, and then ski in the remainder of the trek.  No one plans to actually hike in the way the original explorers did, over 800 miles of impossible terrain; and certainly that is fair enough, since many of them died doing it. But I am still stuck back at "You are here" - with why go at all?

People, you can't tell me that folks who need to go to the North Pole for amusement don't have waaaay too much time and money on their hands.  Clearly the L.A. oxygen bars, the Costa Rican zip lines, and all the other nonsensical stuff we humans have dreamed up to keep our boredom at bay, have long since lost their luster for these people.  So it is off to the North Pole!

                                         & & &

I truly hope that you are not looking for some deep spiritual meaning in this post today, 'cause it just isn't going to happen.

Sure, when I read the above mentioned article, I was immediately reminded of the Queen of Sheba schlepping all over the then known world to meet Solomon.  So, I guess there have been "extreme travelers" around for ages.

But I am of the mind that we have all overlooked some local enjoyment that is easier, cheaper, and LOTS more fun than freezing off an appendage in the arctic.  How about we stay home and work on making that destination a better place?  

Granted it does not have quite the cache of a visit to the North Pole, but I have to tell you, that if I am going to make a tremendous effort to go someplace, it is going to be someplace where I can stay for a long, long time.  Like forever!  I'm just saying .......
                                               & & &
Instead, they were longing for a better country - a heavenly one.  Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God for he has prepared a city for them.  Hebrews 11:16 NIV

God bless you this week, at home, or wherever you are ... Marsha                                        

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pain with a Positive Purpose - In Other Words

"God loves you.  He loves you so much that He's allowed this trial to push you to the point where you have no choice but to look to Him."          When Life is Hard by James MacDonald

Divine love and permitted suffering - those are two concepts that, when considered side by side, most of us have struggled with at one time or another.  As believers, we have accepted the fact that God loves us.  Not that he "tolerates us" or "watches us in amused detachment" or "plays with as as some kind of toy."  His word is clear that he loves us.

But when our everyday life is disrupted by pain and suffering, we tend to slip back into a humanistic line of thinking that may include asking him  "What have you done for me lately?"
                                               & & &

What God has done for some of us, lately, is that he has allowed us to be "pushed to the point" as MacDonald says, where we have no choice but to trust him.  We don't like that much.

Nevertheless, "God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want."  (from The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis, 53.)

 We like to view ourselves as graciously surrendering our will to his in humble obedience.  The truth is much more likely to be that we have been brought to our knees by a load which we can no longer bear alone - and then, and often only then - do we look to him. 

All too often we are like the man who fell, while up on his roof doing some repair work.  As he is sliding down the shingles, knowing he is going to break an arm or a leg when he lands, he desperately calls out to God, "Please, Lord, help me.  I'm falling."

Then his suspenders suddenly snag on a large nail, holding him in place until he can carefully regain his footing and his handhold.  He looks up and says, "Never mind, Lord.  That nail took care of it."
                                                   & & &

Realist Style African American Dentist Working on a Boy - Royalty Free Clipart Picture
I do not recall in which C.S. Lewis book he writes that God allows human suffering, much like a parent allows a child to endure some pain and suffering when going to the dentist.  The conscientious parent actually takes the child to the dentist, and requires him or her to stay put, while the dentist does his work. 

Why does the parent do this?  The mother or dad might say, "Because I care enough about you to ignore your pitiful cries to be allowed to skip this experience."  Because to give in to the child's pleas to be allowed to "skip the dentist" is to assure worse pain, in the form of toothaches and extractions, down the road.

God does not cause suffering, but he does sometimes "take us to the dentist" knowing that the present trial will cause us to become much stronger and healthier down the road.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
 James 1:2-4 NIV
                                           & & &

Admittedly, I am not there yet.  I sometimes plead to please be given a heavenly hall pass for this one, Lord.  Just this time, ok?

But trials focus my attention on him like little else can do.  When the gas tank in my car is full, I pay no attention to the gas gauge.  But when I am almost on empty, I am focused on just where that needle is resting.  Is it actually touching the red part yet?  It is still a hair above it?              car dash board petrol meter, fuel gauge Stock Photo - 6295122     

Running on spiritual empty, recognizing that I have been pushed to the point where I must look to him, humbles me.  It reminds me of how distracted my life can become - and so quickly, too.

So then, perhaps, I am willing to "consider it pure joy" - this very tough situation that I am facing; knowing that God has prepared a solution, a way through, if I am willing to cooperate with him.

After all, "...the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials...".  II Peter 2:9 (a)
I'm truly thankful for that!  God bless you ... Marsha
In Other Words is being hosted today by Debbie at Heart Choices.  Please stop by.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

He Who Holds Tomorrow

My husband called from work day before yesterday with sad news.  His co-worker's wife had just died unexpectedly.  It made him sad, although he did not know her personally.

It also caused him to face his own mortality, which created some discomfort.  He is, after all, on his third career, two of them post-retirement after his primary banking career of over 30 years.

When approached about taking his current job, he liked it for three reasons:  a) he didn't have to work indoors, b) he got to talk to people all day, and c) best of all - he didn't have to wear a tie!  He knows what his priorities are.

Meanwhile I retired last year, and by that I mean, I retired.  Yes, I was offered a few consulting gigs, but after doing a few I realized I simply was retreading old ground.  Been there, done that.  So I said a polite "No thank you" to the following offers.

Thus, as last year drew to a close, I was not quite sure what I might be doing this year.  Turns out, I seem to be blogging quite a bit.  Who knew?  I would not have thought of it, but my daughter Denise encouraged me to give it a try.  (You can find her at The Quiet Quill.)

                                                  & & &
Ahh, writing.  Now that is something that never grows old.  It can get frustrating, demanding, perplexing and a dozen and one other challenging things, but it does not get old - because no two writing days are ever the same.

I do not know where we will be living next year, and I certainly do not know what we will be doing.  Meanwhile, we will, as an old friend used to say, "keep on keeping on."

Today, I head north about 100 miles to help out my son with some housework.  He teaches special education at the high school level, and he does it from his wheelchair.  He has many physical challenges, and goes about life knowing that he has a Teflon graft on his aorta which, should it ever tear loose, will be the end of him in about two minutes.  He works, and lives, and yes, laughs knowing this every day.

I am just his mom.  I don't know where he finds the courage to do what he does each day, as he has done for over 25 years since the accident that left him paralyzed from mid-chest down. Once he said to me, "Mom, when I wake up every morning, I have a choice.  I can either lay there and feel sorry for myself, or I can get up and do the best I can with what I have left.  So far, I have always chosen the latter."

The only way I know to cope with life's uncertainties is to give them to Him Who Holds Tomorrow.  Thank goodness, He knows what He is doing, because the rest of us will never quite figure it out.  A really smart guy named Solomon tried, and all he could come up with was "vanity, vanity."  I am not inspired by that.

Of course, as one fellow once said to me, "If we could figure God out, then he wouldn't be God , now would He?"  Alll righteee then.
                                             & & &

Therefore we do not lose heart.  ... For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.                                         II Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV

Hope your today, and your tomorrows, are in His hands.  God bless you - Marsha

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Spot of Cheer - in a Gray Week

I finally got to BelAir (a regional grocery chain here in the area) to buy some tea.  I was down to my last box, and that is a serious matter around the Young household.  It has been rainy, foggy, and generally dreary here in Northern California for weeks and nothing perks me up quite like a cup of good tea.
The clerk looked at the three boxes of loose leaf tea I had placed on the checkout counter (the only items I was purchasing, so they were more noticeable I suppose) and then gave me a quizzical look.

"These are not tea bags?  Is that right?"

"Right", I replied.  "They are loose leaf tea."

She smiled a little and said, "I like tea.  But I have never used loose leaf.  What is the difference?"

"Do you like coffee?",  I asked her.  She nodded that she did.

"Do you prefer instant or brewed?"

"I prefer brewed."

Then I smiled and explained, "For a real tea drinker, the difference in flavor between loose leaf tea and a tea bag, is like the difference between instant coffee and brewed coffee."

"But how do you ... you know ... what do you put or use...?"

"Strain it?  You can use a stainless steel tea ball, or a strainer of almost any kind."

She smiled again, and said, "I think I am going to try some."
                                          & & &
This exchange took all of perhaps 20 seconds as she rang up my purchase.  What I didn't tell her, as she was working, and I had not been asked to do an instant tea seminar (no pun intended) was that there is a little more to it than just that.

Okay, I'll admit it.  I am a bit of a tea aficionado (or may just a plain old tea-snob).  But it takes more than a box of leaves and a tea strainer to produce a truly excellent cup of brewed tea.  First, you need a decent tea kettle.  Preferably stainless steel, with a copper bottom.  It won't rust and it won't insert unwanted flavors into the brew. 

Next you will need good water.  If your tap water is chlorinated, then you will want to filter it,  or at the very least boil it to remove any chemical taint to the flavor.

Then you will need a decent tea pot.  It does not have to be fancy.  For years I had an old brown tea pot that brewed wonderful tea, but I would rather not use it for tea with a friend.  For that you want a beautiful tea pot.  I have about 25 or so.  Many are gifts from friends over the years who know that I collect tea pots.
Item image

It may seem like a lot of bother for a silly cup of tea, but honestly, I know of few things better, to cheer up a dreary day that a well-brewed cup of tea.  (I'm not saying there is anything wrong with tea bags.  It is just that they are not .... well, you knew I was not going to be able to resist it, didn't you ... not my cup of tea.)  

It does, however, take a little patience and the right equipment, if you really want the best results.  Life is like that.
                                             & & &
We are, of course, an instant and throw-away society.  We all know this.  We get rid of things at an enormous rate of consumption and we seem to treasure little.

Even though we are in the midst of the worst economy since the Great Depression (they are now calling it the Great Recession) few of this generation can relate to an axiom that was popular during that dire time:
                            Eat it up, wear it out
                            Make it do, do without.
Frugality went out of fashion with the hoola-hoop and the Edsel.

Nevertheless, patience and the right equipment are still needed in our lives today, perhaps more than ever.

I Corinthians 13:4 - Love is patient, love is kind ...
I Thessalonians 5:14 -  ... help the weak, be patient with everyone...

Hebrews 13:21 - ...our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep equip you with everything good for doing his will ...

II Timothy 3:17 - that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Friends, if we want to create good results in our lives, if we want to brew up good relationships, and pour out works with God's approval on them, then that is going to require patience and the right equipment.
So, until next time, please take care of yourself, be kind to someone, and may God bless you. ...Marsha                                         

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Maximizing My Messes - Stunned by His Grace

This blogging community is still fairly new to me.  I only began some five months ago, and I have tentatively stumbled and bumbled my way along, trying to learn the "rules of the road" as I go.
As it turns out, there are not too many rules, or at least I have not come across them.  A few of those I've seemed to discern are:
                     Be honest
                     Be kind
                     Be yourself.
(It seems to be a bonus if you have some rudimentary knowledge of the rules of English grammar, and a decent sense of humor.)

With the above in mind, I have also tried to figure out what the purpose of blogging might be - or at least what my purpose in participating in it might be.  

My personal experience, thus far, has been that this can be a rewarding experience involving meeting new people, connecting with like minded individuals in some cases, and being challenged by those who hold very different views from my own in other cases.

And then, occasionally, one may have an "ah ha" moment.  I had one of those this morning, while reading Warren Baldwin's blog Family Fountain.  In his post entitled, Pedigree, he outlines the background of some members in the ancestry of Jesus who had real failures, sins, messes, if you will, in their lives.  And yet, God chose them to be part of the coming of his own Son.

Our human thinking might very well have disqualified those individuals from being part of God's plan.  And many of us have made the same assumption about our own lives.  We may believe that because of  our past, even after repentance and forgiveness, we are no longer fully eligible for godly service. But Warren points out:

They don't realize that their mess may be the very reason God chooses to use them.

Here I hoped that God might, out of his great mercy, use me in some very limited capacity despite my messes.

Never did it occur to me that God might use me because, in his hands, my mess could become a beacon of his mercy to someone else.  I supposed that in light of the fact that I had blown "Plan A" - all that was left for me was a very watered-down, inferior Plan B or C.

So, Warren, thank you, for a new glimpse behind the curtain of God's grace.

And  if you happen to be a "fellow-mess-maker", if you are assuming that you are only fit for limited duty, due to some past mess in your life, I would encourage you to read Warren Baldwin's post entitled Pedigree.

God has a plan - and you and I are part of it.  Now what remains is for us to allow God's grace to clarify our purpose, while his mercy makes us instruments of his peace.  Even while we are stunned by his grace, if we choose to be obedient and humble enough to accept full restoration, he can maximize our messes for his purposes.

Do not misunderstand, I am not referring to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer rightly called "cheap grace."  I am, rather, pointing to God's matchless mercy and limitless love.

God Bless You - Marsha

Monday, January 10, 2011

Carrying the Load - In Other Words

   "... to refuse to bend our shoulders to carry a load is to miss a new opportunity for growth." 
                                    J.R. Miller from Streams in the Desert
                                              & & &
One of the first seeming contradictions that I recall encountering as a very young Bible student was found in Galations in the first few verses of chapter six.  In the KJV, verse 2 clearly states:

                   "Bear ye one anothers' burdens ... "    
but then verse 5 states:        
                   "For every man shall bear his own burden."

Wait a minute.  Was I being instructed to carry my own load or to carry someone else's burden?

Then a truly dismaying thought crossed my mind.  Good grief!  Was I being asked to haul my own load and carry someone else's too?

Oh, come on now, Lord.  Let's get real here.  I am stumbling along barely able to stand up under my own burden.  Now I am supposed to carry other folks' as well?   Puh-leeeze.

I would ask that you keep in mind that I was only about seventeen, and too immature to know not to take this tone with God.  And fortunately, God was a lot more gracious than my cheeky attitude and sent someone along to help me understand this admonition a little better.

This teacher explained that the command to carry another's burden was in cases where their present load was overwhelming:  like a boulder compared to a pebble, or a steamer trunk compared to a backpack.  If, for example, a friend is having dinner guests, she can handle that by herself.  But if she is hosting a banquet for fifty people, she could certainly use some help and I need to get on over there and "apron-up."

If my neighbor has a cold, he can deal with it by himself.  But if he has cancer, he likely could use someone to come alongside and offer some support.  We should each carry our own backpack, but we should help those who are bent double under a steamer trunk at the moment.

God expects me to carry my own daily burdens, those incessant demands that must be met by each of us, however mundane. 

I once knew a lady who asked the women's church group to come over and do her ironing because she was behind.  She wasn't sick, she wasn't unable to iron.  But she had allowed it to back up to the point of no return, such that it turned out she had about five or six large plastic bags of items she wished to have ironed!

Granted this is an outdated example, given that no one actually irons anymore, but you see the point.  She should have plugged in her own iron as this was not a burden that needed to be carried by someone else.

                                         & & &
Still as Miller points out, there are indeed, opportunities for growth when we willingly bend our shoulders to a burden that truly needs to be borne.  Sometimes our enemy tries to tell us that such burdens are beneath us, too menial; when, in fact, we need to be beneath them, learning whatever lesson God wants to teach us.

We all carry loads in life such as the burden of responsibility for children, aging parents, sick family or friends.  We carry the load in our church duties and/or school requirements.  And that says nothing of the tremendous load some carry in the form of their paid jobs. 

And even many of the blessings in life come with attendant burdens:  the burden of love, loyalty, creativity - the load of learning, or teaching, or tougher still, being a consistent role-model.  No question about it, there are enough loads to go around for everyone.

                                       & & &

Even a baby is sometimes said to be "carrying a load."  This statement is not usually meant, however, as a comment upon the baby's skills or willingness.  Oh, no, it usually indicates that:
a)   something smells
b)   someone needs to do something about it
c)   the baby is blissfully unaware of the consternation around him
d)   everyone is hoping that someone else offers to handle the load.

Humm, come to think of it, this reminds me of some Christians I have known.  I'm just saying.
                                           & & &
So, then, let us bear our own burdens with as much grace as God grants to us.  And let us offer to help carry someone else's back-breaking load, bending our shoulders in humility and gratitude for the opportunity for growth.  Why?  Well, I think because He who is our Maker and Redeemer had this to say about it:

Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  Matthew 11:28-30

Tami at The Next Step is hosting this week's In Other Words.  Please stop by.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Surprised By Joy - and other things as well

"What were you doing when you experienced that joy that you now miss?", the counselor asked me quietly.

"Oh, nothing spectacular.  Usually I would just be taking a walk or something, and it would just sort of well up inside me. I would have this overwhelming sense of gratitude, and a conviction that I was at peace with God.  It was the most freeing thing, it felt almost like the expression "walking on air."

"And how long has it been since you have felt that way?" he inquired. 

With my head bowed and my shoulders hunched against the knowledge of the failure and despair I now felt in my life, I responded, "Several years now."

                                                  & & &

This exchange took place many years ago, during a time in my life when I had lost nearly everything I had ever cherished, and I did not see when, or if, I would ever be whole again, much less experience joy.

It was to be several years later before I read Surprised By Joy.  I had read The Chronicles of Narnia, then The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, and several others by Lewis.  When I did finally read Joy, it was like coming home, to a place you only vaguely remembered, but knew that you had been searching for all along.

Lewis describes this "joy"as "an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction." (17-18)

I could not help but smile when I read this, as it immediately reminded me of something my pastor used to say when I was a teenager.  He was an older minister serving in his final pastorate before he retired from full-time ministry.  He had a wonderful big smile, and sometimes he would get this truly joyous expression on his big, homely face and say, with great expression, "I'm satisfied with an unsatisfied satisfaction."

When I finally read Surprised By Joy, I understood what my old pastor had meant.  He was referring to the present soul-satisfaction of knowing God, but nevertheless being dissatisfied in the realization that we do not know him nearly well enough, all the while longing to know him better.  However, when we truly experience His Presence, we are, indeed, "surprised by joy."

Lewis's work influenced my life and my outlook in more ways than this brief homily can describe.  I had always been a "bookish" girl, much more comfortable alone in our little town library than in social gatherings.  My socially boisterous father did not approve.

Thus, when Lewis wrote, "What had been 'my' taste was apparently 'our' taste (if only I could ever meet the 'we' to whom that 'our' belonged.)"   (103) I thought, "Exactly!"

Then, of course, there is always the razor sharp wit and powers of observation that Lewis displays, that add to the readability of works which, while deeply intellectual, can be truly hilarious.  For example, when he describes his father's continual mangling of names and facts, it is with this brief anecdote:

"Tell him that a boy called Churchwood had caught a field  mouse and kept it as a pet, and a year, or ten years later, he would ask you, 'Did you ever hear what became of poor Chickweed who was so afraid of the rats?' "  (121)

Many of us have been driven to distraction by someone in our lives who displayed this kind of odd mental quirk.  And just reading it and having that "yes!" moment of recognition is comforting.  We are not crazy, or just imagining it, after all.

                                                & & &

Finally, having come from a religious tradition where it was expected that one would "always have the victory" and constantly be in a state of happy contentment in Christ, what a blessed relief it was to read his unvarnished account of his own gradual conversion, a process not an event, when he entered the kingdom, "perhaps the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England." (228-229)

Only in heaven, will we have any idea of how many hesitant, intellectually honest, but spiritually blind men and women have come to Christ partly because of this line alone.  & & &

Please visit the C.S. Lewis Book Club, hosted by D.J. Hughes at her blog,    God Bless You.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Dependable God - In Other Words

“Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.”
~ by Oswald Chambers ~

A deliberate confidence - a conscious choice to trust God's truest intentions toward us in every aspect of our lives.

One of the definitions of deliberate is something that is "done or said on purpose ... with full awareness of everything that is involved."  (American Heritage Dictionary, Second Edition)

When juries deliberate, they do so with all the information they have available to them.  However, they may not be aware of all the evidence or facts, because the legal system sometimes precludes some information from being taken into consideration by the jury.

Our human limitations preclude us from knowing everything we want to know about God and His plans for our lives.  Now we "see through a glass darkly... but ...then we shall know as we are known."  (I Cor. 13: 12-13 KJV)

Thus, we are operating on limited knowledge about a limitless God.  Nevertheless, his Word tells us everything we really need to know about his intentions toward us.  More than enough that we may, if we choose to do so, make a deliberate choice to trust him ...

When we do not understand .....

    ... why the lay off notice came,

When we do not understand ...

   ... why the diagnosis was so crushing

When we do not understand ...

   ...why our child's heart has been broken by cruelty

When we do not understand ...

   ... why our neighbor has turned away our kindest efforts

When we do not understand ...

   ... why nation rises against nation

When we do not understand ...

   ...why we must carry on when we see little point to it all

When we do not understand ...

   ... why innocence is despoiled and greed is glorified ...

Job said, "But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold." (Job 23:10 NIV)  And even more deliberately, in the face of daunting blows, "Though God slay me, yet I will trust him..." (Job 13.15 KJV)

When we do not understand ....  Then, then is when we exercise the gift of faith and say, but I know God's character is just, and right, and true.  That His scales are balanced, that his judgements are fair, and that His mercy will endure forever. 

Selah!  So be it.

(Please visit Nina, who is hosting this week, at Mama's Little Treasures.)

Aiming high - or not at all - In Other Words

                                          "Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in.  Aim at earth and you will get neither." 
C.S. Lewis         

It is just this kind of down to earth (no pun intended) declaration that makes C.S. Lewis so readable.  That is no small feat, given that he was, in fact, a towering intellectual who spoke four or five languages fluently, and was both a college professor and a best-selling author.  How then did he manage to strike just that note in so many of his writings that still resonates with us today, nearly half a century after his death in 1963?

I would suggest that one reason is because of the devastating honesty in his writings.  I say "devastating" because, quite frankly, some of his statements and opinions are not for the faint-hearted.  To take Lewis at his word, is to risk acute discomfort in some of one's own dearly held ideas.       

Today's quote is one case-in-point.  When we "aim at earth", in other words make fulfilling earthly desires our primary objective in life, it will likely result in either abject failure or empty achievement; and what is worse, that very humanistic selfishness will cost us heaven as well.  That, my friend, is pretty stern stuff.

I strongly suspect, however, that Lewis had a friend named Jesus, who not only agreed with Lewis on this principle, but had been his teacher regarding this concept in the first place.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (heaven) and all the other things shall be added unto you. (earth thrown in)  Matthew 6: 33

Easier said than done.

From our earliest recollection, we are encouraged to "aim at the earth" - to attempt to obtain what we want, or what others expect from us.  Good grades, athletic achievements, outstanding talent demonstrations, prizes, honors, accolades.  Those begin in youth, and when older we move on to striving for better jobs, then promotions, bigger houses, and the finer things in life, in general.

But in Isaiah 55: 2 the question is asked, "Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?"

... your labor on what does not satisfy - sounds like aiming at earth to me.

How do we "aim for heaven" exactly?  What does that look like when we live it out?  I am fairly sure it is not about pious looks, or spouting lots of memorized verses.

I believe we aim for heaven when we simply go about our daily lives as though Jesus were involved in and concerned about everything we do, and say, and need, and even those things we secretly wish for (the desires of our hearts).  Because guess what?  He is involved and He is concerned, about all of it!

What an amazing thing to contemplate.  The master of the universe cares about our hopes and dreams, our fears and anxieties, our loves and losses.  Not just about all of us collectively, as though we were some kind of spiritual collector's set of matching cups and saucers.  But rather he cares deeply about each of us individually.  Calvary was personal.

So, then, let us aim for heaven and we will most assuredly find that God has thrown in the earth as well.  After all, "For God so loved the world that He gave..."