Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Right Answer to the Wrong Questions

I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer.
You are yourself the answer.
Before your face questions die away.
What other answer would suffice?                      
~ C.S. Lewis ~

In one of his books, Lewis uses the following question as an illustration of nonsensical questions:
            Is yellow round or square?
He then states that nonsense is still nonsense, whether we ask it of one another or of God.  However, the questions we often pose to the Almighty, whether or not we ever actually voice them, seem logical and even critical to us.
When will this be better ... or over?
Why me or my family?
How could they?
Such questions, carried on the heart, not only seem sensible, but we sometimes wonder, how can a loving God not give us a reply?
As Lewis points out in today's quote, He has provided us with an answer - Himself. 
When we ponder the tough issues of life, we want a step-by-step explanation from God as to the how and why of our dilemma.  Instead, He introduces us to the I Am of the Way.
Early Christian were often known simply as "the people of the Way."  Not the people with all the answers, nor the ones with no unanswered questions, and certainly not the people without any problems, but rather the people who followed Someone who did know the way they were going, and knew how to get them to their ultimate destination.
I don't know about you, but when I ask someone what time it is, I don't want them to tell me how to build a clock.  Nevertheless, we want the exact opposite from God.  He keeps trying to tell us what time it is, "look, the fields are white to harvest, the laborers are few, ..the time is coming when no man can work...".
But we want him to tell us how to build a "clockwork" life, with finances that never get tangled, relationships that never do either, and opportunities that abound among which we may freely choose.
Of course, he has given us some wonderful guidelines in His Word.  And when we apply them consistently we do experience fewer tangled messes in our lives.  But sometimes, when we forget that He alone is the answer to all our questions, we are in the same silly boat as my five year old once was when he asked me, "Mom, what's above the sky?"  When I explained a bit about the atmosphere, and then the spiritual place beyond that called heaven, I told him that he might think of the sky as the floor of heaven.
He got an impish grin and then said, "Well, wouldn't it be funny if I poked a hole in the sky with my light-saber, and God and all his angels fell right through?"
I laughed and and replied, "It doesn't work that way."  When we get frustrated and are tempted to demand an answer from God, I suspect our Father is smiling, shaking his head and saying, "It doesn't work that way."
There is an old song,  that says "It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus. ... One glimpse of his dear face, all sorrows will erase, so gladly run the race, 'till we see Him.
His silence is not indifference to our questions.  It is God declining to repeat Himself, as He has already given the answer.  His name is Jesus.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Blarney Stone with Clorox Wipes


One of the most common things that tourists want to see while in Ireland is the Blarney Stone.  Like most tourists, we had no idea that it comes complete with a castle, hotel and tourist gift shop.  But we soon learned.

Personally, I had no real desire to travel over six thousand miles to look at a rock, even a famous one; and I surely did not think that my husband needed anymore blarney skills than he has already acquired.  I mean he already signs all my birthday, anniversary, and Valentine's cards, "Te ego semper amavisse" - so you tell me.

However, when you sign on for one of these "tour packages" you either go where they take you, or you sit in the hotel wondering what the heck you are doing sitting there, instead of making the most of your time in this delightful country.  So we went to visit the Blarney Stone/castle/hotel/woolen mill/gift shop/tea room.

The grounds of the castle are beautiful and since we were there in early spring we enjoyed the sight of the early crocuses, heather, and daffodils in bloom. 

Much as a family heirloom is kept out of the daily activity area, and is accorded a place of honor in the household, protected where it will not be damaged or stolen, just so the Blarney Stone is kept well back from the general foot traffic.  I mean you have got to want to see this thing, or you are definitely going to miss it.

It was both our fortune and misfortune to have arrived just behind a bus load of young college athletes from Texas, who were having the time of their lives.  Each and every one of these formidable students (these kids were BIG) had determined that she/he was going to kiss that darned rock. 

That presented a bit of a logistical challenge for the rest of us and here is why.  There is only one way to get to the Blarney Stone.  First you walk up a pathway, through a delightful garden and groomed park for, oh, about the equivalent of two or three blocks.

Then you climb the increasingly steep hill to the base of the castle itself.  Then, if you are still determined to smooch the rock, you must climb several more sets of stairs to reach the base of the tower stairway.  Next there is a set of wooden stairs.  They are wide enough for, perhaps, two people to walk side by side.

Finally, one comes to the tower steps themselves, and it is a narrow stairway of ...wait for it ... one hundred and sixty stone steps to the landing where the magical stone rests upon its supposed laurels.  It is only wide enough for one person at a time to ascend, and the kids from the Lone Star State got there ahead of us.  It meant that the line was barely moving.  That was the "misfortune" part for those who really wanted to kiss the stone. 

But it also afforded those who had only a half-hearted desire to do so to back out, saying, "Well, look, that line hasn't moved in twenty minutes.  We only have two hours and I am not going to spend it standing on this stairway."  See how nicely that works out?  I'm just saying.

However, for those who persevered all the way to the top, now the real gymnastics began.  First you must lay down and position yourself in a semi-upside down position.   The rock must be kissed while hanging somewhat suspended over a gap in the castle wall, and given that it is a looooong way down, there is an official Blarney Stone attendant who must hold your legs for you while you actually pucker up.  (And tradition dictates that he must be tipped for holding your legs while you engage in the honored tradition.)

Seriously, folks, I wouldn't go to this much trouble to kiss Matt Damon or George Clooney, much less a cold, hard rock that tens of thousand of strangers have lip-locked!  Yuck!

Of course, modern science has also put a bit of a damper on the magic, because the leg-holding attendant also is tasked with wiping the Blarney Stone after each smooch, so as to minimize communicable diseases.  I was told he uses Clorox wipes.  I took that on faith, because, trust me, nothing could induce me to climb 160 stairs - not even if Clooney and Damon were both waiting at the top!

Now here's the kicker.  The legend of the Blarney Stone, whence comes the phrase "He's full of blarney", is not because someone did say something, but because a certain Lord Blarney would not say something - that something being to vow allegiance to the queen of England.

However, he could not just offer a polite refusal during those politically charged times as such an action would likely have meant the removal of his head.  So each time an emissary would arrive from England requesting that Lord Blarney pledge his loyalty to the British queen, this gentleman would send back compliments upon her administrative skills, tell her kind things about her country and assure her of his genuine friendship.  But he never gave the oath of allegiance to her.

Finally, exasperated with his wiles, the queen opined when handed yet another communication from Lord Blarney, that he always used a lot of words, but said nothing.  From this came the expression to be full of "blarney" - a blow hard, a wind bag, or to Americanize it, to be "full of baloney."

Speaking of food, we had lunch at one of the local pubs near the castle.  There was an actual coal fire place burning brightly upon the hearth.  We were seated near it, and I was grateful as the day was windy and raw.  The food was good and the tea (completely contradicting my earlier stance that it was impossible to get a "decent cuppa" anywhere except at home) was even better.  And I didn't need a Clorox wipe to qualify for it!

Until next time... when we talk about the "little people", or ponder the medicinal effects of mead, examine tribal behavioural norms on tours, or any one of a half dozen other newly fascinating topics - Top o' the mornin' to ya. ....Marsha

P.S. Speaking of little people, I am off again tomorrow morning for the airport, to travel to Southern California to take care of my own two little people (aka grandchildren - God's consolation prize for getting older).  Thus I will be off line until next Tuesday.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Glorious Plot by the Divine Author of Our Faith

In the darkest of our times,                   

God is plotting for our glory.

If we would believe this and remember it,

we would not be blind when God reveals His grace.”                  ~ by John Piper ~

It is impossible for me to read the quote above without immediately thinking of the verse Jeremiah 29:11:

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."

Undoubtedly many believers have found comfort in this verse and I am no exception.  The circumstances under which I first truly memorized it, however, are somewhat unique.

On November 13, 1981 our family lost everything we owned:  all furniture, clothing, bedding, dishes and kitchenware, garden tools, musical instruments, books, family picture albums, and last and probably least to everyone but me, the only copies of the manuscript of a book I had written.  Gone - all of it, overnight. 

Just to add insult to injury, our moving van had been stolen by a young man whom a pastor friend of ours was trying to help overcome drug addiction.  He and his crew stole the truck from the church parking lot where it was locked up for the night.  Nothing was ever recovered from the theft.  The fact that the crime came about through our church / pastoral contacts cut deeply.

On the first Sunday that I went to church, after the robbery, I was visiting a congregation where I did not ordinarily attend.  I sat there alone, angry, crushed, mystified. 

Please understand, it was not just this loss alone.  I had just lived through five years of betrayal and heartache and hardly knew which way to turn.  Yes, I knew they were just "things" that had been taken.  And, yes, I was grateful, truly grateful, that my children were safe and well.  But this was simply one blow too many for me to absorb as I struggled through my personal "dark night of the soul."

So there I sat, on the back pew, shoulders slumped, mind numb, heart wracked with anguish over what this latest grief would do to my children's faith in God.  How do you explain to two teenagers and an eight year-old that everything they had, all their sports trophies, and school projects, and fishing gear bought with money they earned from a paper route, was all gone?  AND had been stolen by someone connected with a church!

Finally, I lifted my head enough to glance around the unfamiliar sanctuary, and there on the wall to my right, was a large banner.  It contained the words of Jeremiah 29:11.

Tears began to stream down my face as I asked God to forgive me for doubting his love and his plan for my life.  If only we would believe and remember that God is plotting for our glory.
                                        * * *
Fast forward thirty years.  I wish there was time to tell you of the marvelous way God guided and blessed me over the last twenty five of those thirty years.  However, I would first have to acknowledge that there were to be five more years of loss and heartbreak to endure after the robbery.  I look back upon those ten years as my "decade of despair."

Nevertheless, I can honestly testify that, after that Sunday morning, never again did I allow doubt about whether God loved me to settle in my heart.  Regarding doubt and errant thoughts, Martin Luther once famously said that he could not prevent birds from flying over his head, but he could keep them from building a nest in his hair.  

Of course, I sometimes stumbled and fell, and often all I could do was cling to Him.  It was all I was capable of at the time as, one by one, I was stripped not only of material things, but of relationships, home and health.  But His grace was greater than my grief and it carried me through. God did "make all things beautiful" in His own time and eventually I could say, "It is well with my soul."
                                            * * *
Are you heartbroken?  Do you wonder if God really loves you, if He knows your pain or cares about your suffering?  Yes, He does!  Even in your darkest hour, He knows you, loves you, and is plotting for your glorious future.             * * *

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12:2-3 (NIV)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Certainty - In An Uncertain World

                                       Wrinkled Brows .....

Certainty:  Belief which is based upon a thorough examination of all evidence.

"...but in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes."
                                          ~Benjamin Franklin

We are just home from Ireland and once again we have had the experience of knowing the world a little better, and from a bit wider perspective, than we did prior to this trip.

In upcoming posts, I will regale readers with some of our adventures while visiting the Emerald Isle.

But today, this first day home, my thoughts turned to another island nation, Japan.  We had only been in our hotel in Dublin a few hours, when the first reports of the terrible earthquake in Japan began to come in.

Over the course of the next ten days, while we toured with fellow fortunates, enjoying the wonders of that beautiful place, we also watched each morning or evening the grim reports of devastation from the other side of the world.

Earthquake, tsunami, nuclear melt down - whole trains disappearing, whole towns wiped off the face of the map ... while we were off to see another castle that had stood for a thousand years.

It was very disconcerting, mind-boggling, really; and I kept thinking that when those people awoke that morning they were going about their lives as usual, not knowing that everything was about to change for them - forever.

That is the nature of the world we live in - uncertain.  There are no guarantees that life will turn out as we planned or hoped that it would.  That does not mean that we should not plan or hope, for God gave us the ability to do both and, I believe, He expects us to use both for good.

But there is really only one way to deal with uncertainty and that is with faith in God.
                                    * * *
They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.  John 17:8b NIV (from the prayer Jesus prayed to the Father for believers)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Making an Impression or Making an Impact

“It is no use walking anywhere to preach

unless our walking is our preaching.”

~ Francis of Assisi ~

Actions do speak louder than words.  Not only louder, but clearer and truer.  Our behavior is more keenly who we are, while our words may simply be what we say we are.

The old axiom goes, "Say what you mean, and mean what you say."

Words are about making an impression.  Actions are about making an impact. 

In today's society, image is everything, or so we are constantly being told.  Dress for success.  Make an entrance.  Own the room.  Work it, work it, work it... but the "it" being worked isn't real.  It is just an impression, an image, a chimera.

I learned a little poem in Vacation Bible School many years ago, that I have never been able to forget, even during those times in my life when I would have liked to be able to ignore its plaintive message.  It went like this ....

What you are, speaks so loud
That the world can't hear what you say.
They're looking at your walk,
Not listening to your talk,
They're judging by your actions everyday.

Don't believe, you'll deceive
By claiming what you never knew.
They'll accept what they see,
And know you to be.
They'll judge by your life alone.
     (author unknown)

Sociologists tell us that we each have 17 people watching our lives.  I don't know who my seventeen folks are, but I truly do not want to lead them astray, or let them down.  Let us, then, be careful to walk our talk, rather than simply talking about the walk, or thinking about the walk, but never bothering to actually do the walking.
                                           * * *
A few years ago, while in Italy, we visited the village of Assisi where St. Francis lived and preached.  It is a beautiful hilltop village, but the terrain is steep.  I mean, makes-you-out-of-breath-to-climb-to-the-top, steep.  You would need to be a very disciplined and physically fit person to do any "walking and preaching" in that town.  But the view was worth the climb!

Living a Perfect Day - Wrinkled Brows

Some of you may recall that I planned to implement a blog schedule in February of this year that would be something like:

Mondays - Wrinkled Brows

Tuesdays/Wednesdays - In Other Words

Thursdays/Fridays - Visiting Spots

.... also a series on my experiences in the corporate world, to be called A Christian in Corporate America.

Since I posted that schedule, as many of you know, a family illness necessitated another couple of cross-country journeys, several weeks away from home, and suddenly February was gone.

Now it looks like March will also be spent traveling.  We leave for Ireland tomorrow morning.  :)  Happy campers are we!

                                           * * *
Nevertheless, as a gesture of good faith on my planned blogging schedule when we return, here is a sample of what "Wrinkled Brows" will be like: a word or a quote, with commentary.

"Wrinkled Brows" - quote for the week:

"You cannot live a perfect day without doing something for someone who can never repay you." ~  John Wooden (famed basketball coach)
                                                * * *
When I read the quote above the first time, it just stopped me in my tracks.  We tend to think a "perfect day" would be all about a day filled with the people, things and experiences that we love most.

My daughter used to say as a child, whenever her day had gone particularly well, "This was my great day!"  It always warmed my heart because of the innocence with which she proclaimed it.

But as we grow older, and either wiser or just... older, we tend to lose track of the possibility of even having a "perfect day".  We are so busy working, coordinating schedules, meeting deadlines, checking homework, etc. that our goal is often just to be able to get to bed on time.  And even that eludes us.

We are caught up in the hurly-burly of the give and take of life.  Ah, but there is the rub.  We get into the habit of assuming that for every "give" there must also be a "take" - and that very attitude sometimes prevents us from enjoying what might have otherwise been a wonderful day.

It's just a thought.                     

                                            * * *            
Just wanted to let you know that I have not forgotten about the planned blogging schedule, and still hope to use it, once we are back from Ireland and into April.

Until then, I appreciate those of you who have stopped by to comment on the random articles I offer.  I also enjoy reading your posts as often as time allows. 

Tomorrow, I will write on In Other Words Tuesdays and then be offline for a couple of weeks. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Making an Effort ... or Making Every Effort

One of the pleasures of being home again is the ability to have a quiet morning devotion in my favorite chair.  Yes, I take my Bible with me when I travel, and I do try to read it every day, even on the road.  That is, I make an effort.

But it is not the same as that comforting ritual here at home.  This morning I was reading in Luke 13:22-24, where Jesus is teaching the people.  Someone asks him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?"

Now there is a loaded question!  However, Jesus does not answer it directly with a "yes" or a "no".  Instead, he cautions the listeners to "make every effort" to enter through the narrow door.

Once a pair of women knocked on my door, to offer me their literature and doctrine on the new heaven and new earth.  They were of that cult that teaches that only 144,000 individuals will actually go to heaven.

My little sister, who was about twelve at the time, happened to be visiting me that day.  After I chatted briefly with the two ladies, politely declined their offered brochures, and closed the door, my sister asked me what they were doing.  When I explained that, among other things, they believed that only 144,000 were going to heaven, she immediately quipped, "Well, what were they doing? Selling tickets?"

No, but they were making an effort to share what they believed.  It was a misguided, but well-intended effort.  It is easy to feel superior, but how many of my efforts have been well-intended but misguided?  Only heaven knows.

In the passage noted above, Jesus admonishes his listeners to "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to."

I don't know about you, but sometimes I feel like I have done the best I could, made an effort, so to speak, but ran out of steam before I could fully accomplish my goal.  At those times, I find myself both tired and discouraged.

However, at other times, I know that I have made every effort, to follow through, to exercise self-discipline, to reach out the hand of reconciliation, or to just walk another mile with someone in need.  At such times, I may indeed still be tired, but I am not drained.  I find God gives me extra strength to carry on, to go the distance, to make every effort.

It occurs to me that I need to spend less time just "making an effort" (perhaps a half-hearted one just to satisfy my own or another's desire for some action) and instead spend more time "making every effort" to find the narrow way, the one approved by God, the one that leaves me satisfied, fulfilled and renewed. ...
It's just a thought.
                                         * * *
God bless your efforts to serve him well today. ...Marsha

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.  (Galatians 6:9-10) NIV

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tired, road sore, and home again!

Home,  ahhhh, yes, home again!

And, as the opening lines of The Hobbit state, "...that means comfort".  Yes, it does. 

We drove through 12 states in 5 days, we have seen more varieties of cacti (cactuses ?? whatever) than I ever had any curiosity about, and I have resisted fast food temptations more vigorously than any weakened older woman ought to have to, in my condition.

What is my condition, you ask?  Well, how about tired, cranky, stiff and sore.  (I should probably keep in mind that some, who know me best, would be asking at this juncture, "So what's new?")

Returned to stacks of unopened mail, courteously held for us at the local P.O., and retrieved by my spouse just as soon as the dog and I rolled out into the driveway.  He did not even come to a semi-rolling stop, but just slowed down long enough for Holly and me to make a safe jump out.  Okay, so that is a slight exaggeration; but if you cannot use hyperbole in your own blog, then where in the world can you use it?  I'm just saying.

Phone messages, indicated by the irritating red blinking light.  Don't these people have anyone else that they can bother, instead of leaving me silly questions when I am not even home to answer them?

Like I said, tired and cranky.  Stiff and sore.  But home!

Turned on the heat, and the water, plugged in the computer, listened to the first of several voice mails...put on the tea kettle, and made my first cup of decent tea in five weeks.

It is my firm conviction that one can obtain a decent cup of coffee in almost any location in the United States; but one can only obtain a truly decent cup of tea.... at home!   :)

                                           * * *
Thank you, Lord, for a safe trip, a home to return to, and for people who care.  (I'll be more grateful when I've had some rest.  Really, I will.)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sanity - Or The Alternative

" If you don’t change the direction you are going,

then you are likely to end up where you are headed.”
                             .....  John Maxwell

I have recently spent a great deal of time with someone who "ended up where she was headed."

She was a beautiful child when I first knew her.  Flaxen blond hair, sky-blue eyes, Dresden china skin, and a smile that could steal your heart in a glance.

She was the youngest, the family clown, a little doll.

The serious drinking began at fourteen. When I stood by her hospital bedside after a suicide attempt, watching her breathe in a coma that the doctors said she might not emerge from, she was 21.  The first rehab came at 22 - the most recent one at 55.  I lost count of all those in between.  There were interminable Sunday afternoons, when visitors were allowed, that I spent sitting in shabby rooms surrounded by the detritus of lives gone wrong, futures forfeited, and families forever broken - while we talked about whether "this time" would be the time she would change direction.

But, as a doctor I once worked with used to say, "Everywhere you go, there you are."  You hear that a lot now days, but back then it was a newly coined phrase, and struck me as almost ... well, profound in a simple way.

Everywhere you go, you take your hopes and fears, your disappointments and resentments, your loves and hates with you.  If the only thing that changes is location, then the only thing that will change is your address.

Those familiar with "The Big Book" (no, not the one with 66 books and venerated by fellow believers, but rather those who know and live the Twelve Step Programs) often say,

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results." 

I think perhaps that Maxwell is saying the same thing in slightly different words. 

Thus, if we like the direction we are headed, let us adhere to the path with all the fidelity and forbearance we can muster.

But if we are looking down life's road and see a sad destination coming 'round the bend toward us, let us determine to change direction.                    * * *

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation the old has gone, the new has come!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation..."        II Corinthians 5:17-18