Sunday, November 18, 2012

Planning - Part II

Planning is neither good nor bad in and of itself. We like to feel that we are in control of our lives and planning is one way to introduce an element of control over at least some portion of our daily activities.

There is, of course, a broad spectrum of opinions as to the value of planning.  On one end we have the "go with the flow" crowd, who would sooner have an unplanned root canal that to plan enough time into their daily schedule to brush and floss.

On the other end is the "if it isn't on the schedule, we don't have time for it" crowd.  People in this category often end up teaching things like corporate time management seminars. (She wrote sheepishly.)

I believe the healthiest folks are those who are able to move back and forth along the spectrum, sometimes planning carefully, and other times just letting events unfold.  How I envy such people. There are even times, these days, when I can break bread with them and appreciate their perspective; but it took many painful life-lessons before I was able to do this.

God sent me to the "Chastened Planners Remedial Camp" - more than once - before I finally relaxed my death grip upon trying to control outcomes.  It is not by happenstance, that Twelve Step programs often remind their participants that "becoming overly attached to a desired outcome" is just one slippery step away from a relapse into addictive behavior.  That is scary stuff.
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So what kinds of plans can get a person into hot water?  Since planning itself is neither positive nor negative, what is it that can occur within that process that pushes the planner into the dark side of the spectrum?

Here are a couple of thoughts that you should feel free toss right on over the fence, if they do not ring true.

Planning for a personal objective, without regard to the thoughts, feelings, or needs of others.  In other words, planning rooted in selfish ambition.

All a man's ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart.
Proverbs 21:2 (NIV)

The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty. (Proverbs 21:5 (NIV)

I do not think it is by accident that these two verses are found so close to each other.  Diligence that is also caring and generous leads to profitable productivity.  But a plan that is fed by something selfish in a person's heart, is weighed by God - and generally requires corrective action, for our own good and for the good of those who might otherwise be hurt by our actions.

King David had a plan to obtain Bathsheba.  He executed his plan (along with her husband) and she became his.  But the following outcomes were rife with broken hearts, loss and death.

A plan rooted in a selfish objective may be successful in the short term, but it will ultimately be doomed in God's grand design.

Planning that is based upon faulty information or a skewed premise.  

I recall the "dress for success" and "if it feels good do it" campaigns of the seventies and eighties.  If you looked good and felt good, then whatever you planned to do would turn out okay.  

Ask any of the beautiful actresses or handsome young actors, with wardrobes to die for and money to burn, whose bodies have been found after an overdose, how well that premise worked out for them.  They had a plan for stardom.  A desire to conquer the world. And sometimes they achieved it.

But the entire premise upon which they built their lives was sand, and eventually the house came tumbling down.
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Too little planning can result in chaos, but too much planning can result in heart failure.  A heart that has failed to recognize that God's plan is better than our plan, and that His timing is better than our timing.

If you are discouraged about a plan you have worked upon long and hard, and for which you are seeing little or no results, I encourage you to let go, even just a little.  Step back.  Take a deep breath.

God may be working out a solution that you have yet to recognize.  He is in the planning business and his plans include knowing the beginning from the end, an advantage we would do well to remember.

Some wit observed, "For a child of God it all works out all right in the end.  If it isn't working out, then it isn't the end yet."  I kind of like that.

Long ago someone suggested that instead of asking God to bless our plans, we would do better to figure out what God is already blessing ... and do that!  
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Hope your plans are going well today.  But if they are not, hope you can find a way to trust the all knowing Planner for as long as necessary.  It will be worth the wait. Until next time, Marsha

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

But What About Our Plaa-aa-aa-an ??? - Part I

Plan:  a scheme or program for making, doing, or arranging something; to have in mind as a project or purpose ( Webster's New World Dictionary-Third College Edition)
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Some of us like plans.  Some of us don't.  Some of us like plans, as long as they are our plans.  If it is someone else's plan, then we are not quite so taken with it.

For years the LOC* would say, "If it isn't in Marsha's planner, it isn't going to happen." (I am embarrassed to admit this was often true.)

He referred to my Franklin-Covey Planner.  Much like Mary's little lamb, everywhere that Marsha went, it followed her.  I not only made plans and followed them, I taught various aspects of planning in corporate seminars - project planning and execution, Gannt charts, milestones, benchmarks - you name it.  I was a planning guru.

Generally, I operated on the old axiom of "plan your work and work your plan."  It worked for me.  I could also be, well, how shall I put this, overly attached to the plan, once it was in motion. Once it had been edited, approved, and distributed via the corporate intranet, you were going to have to pry that puppy out of my cold-dead hand before I would let it go.  Flexibility has never been one of my strong suits.  The PowerPoint show would go on.

But despite all the graduate coursework and corporate class sessions in which I was involved, the most dramatic lesson I ever had about becoming too attached to a plan was taught to me by my nine-year old granddaughter, Brynn, earlier this year.

We had attended Brynn's older sister, Simone's, high school choir competition in San Diego that morning, and then we went to Sea World with dozens of other students and parents/grandparents/others for the rest of the day.  The awards ceremony was scheduled to take place around 9:00 p.m. that evening, after which the teen students would board buses to go home; and my daughter, younger granddaughter and I would drive home on our own.

It was a fun day.  But it was a long day.  It rained intermittently, and was by turns chilly, windy, and then inexplicably too warm from hour to hour.  We walked, we talked, we watched animals and fishes do funny things. We ate funny things too (although I think they were called funnel cakes) and we walked some more.

Finally, around 5:00 p.m. my daughter looked at me (I may have been flagging a little by then) and said, "It is still hours until the awards dinner.  If we stay until after that, we are not going to get home until way after midnight.  What do you think about just heading back now?"

Not wanting to be a drag on the party, I said something like, "I think that makes sense."  Inwardly, I wanted to weep with sheer gratitude, as my feet and back were killing me.  I had been trying to keep up with a much young crew for hours and I was pretty much done in.

Thus, it was decided and we steered out of the gargantuan parking lot, and headed up Highway 101 for Los Angeles.  About ten miles up the road, we heard sniffling coming from the regions of the back seat.  My daughter ignored it for several miles and finally said, "Brynn, are you upset that we are going home early?"

As the sniffles turned into piteous sobs, Brynn suddenly wailed, "But what about our plaaaaan?  This wasn't our plaaaaan!  We were going to stay until the dinner and drive home late.  This wasn't the plaaaaaaaaan."
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Isn't it scary when some of our younger family members suddenly remind us of ourselves? Don't get me wrong; Brynn is delightful, funny and whip-smart, and I enjoy her immensely.  But in that moment I didn't know whether to laugh out loud, each time she wailed the drawn out word p-l-a-a-a-n, or cry with her.

She knew the plan for the day.  She agreed with the plan.  She liked the plan.  She bought into the plan.  And now, someone had changed the plaaaan without her consent.  WOW!  She was not a happy camper.

Have you ever been there?  I have.
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As Christians we often make a plan, decide how we are going to implement it, and then pray over our plan and ask God to bless it.  Nothing especially wrong with that, other than that it is backwards.

There is nothing inherently wrong with putting my clothes on backwards.  I bought them and they are mine to wear any way I want. And I can tell myself that all day long; but when I wear them backwards, they do not fit me well.  They are awkward and uncomfortable and downright silly looking.

You might think, why would you do that?  Wear your clothes backwards.  Who does that anyway?

And I might reply that they are my clothes and I just felt like it.  But they still feel uncomfortable because they do not fit right - and they look silly - even when I do not admit it.

In other words, the ability to buy clothing, and the ownership of that same clothing, do not alter the original design and purpose of the clothing, do they?

We can make our plans, devise them well; but if they do not conform with the Divine Planner's purpose for our lives, those plans will be awkward, ill-fitting and ultimately may not turn out well.

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Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes."  (James 4:13-14 NIV)

I don't know about you, but there have been times when I have wailed at God, just like my nine year old granddaughter, "But that wasn't the plaaaan.  I had a plaaaan, and this wasn't it!  Now what am I supposed to do?"
                                                   # # # # # Question:  Have you ever made a plan, and you were convinced it was a good plan, and had the whole thing turn out wrong?  How did you react?  I have done that.  And next time I'll share some of that with you.
Next time:  A Change of Plans.  Now what do we do?  Serving on the "Chastened Planning Commmittee". (Part II)
(*Lovable Old Coot)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How Are "They" in Your Neighborhood ?

It is another chilly, cloudy November day here in Northern California. We have had a couple of rains, but not in the past week.  The LG (Landscape Guy) told me to ignore the intermittent rain, as it does not water the new plants deeply enough.  

Thus, I was outside watering, despite the season.  As I worked my way along a "hoped for hedge" a green SUV pulled into the drive and a lady got out and introduced herself as a new neighbor just down the road.  We have been here a year, but she has only been here a month - so she is really new and I welcomed her.

She asked how we like it here, and I said we are enjoying the rural life.  The neighborhood is friendly and quiet and just what we were hoping for.  She looked a little disconcerted and told me the reason she was stopping by:  had we been bothered by the barking dogs two doors down from us?

I honestly had to tell her that I had not heard them, except for one day, when I did recall they seemed to bark. She did not seem to be "looking for trouble" as she told me why it was such a problem for her - she works nights and sleeps days.  I could understand as my mom was a night nurse for fifteen years and getting enough sleep was a constant challenge for her.

Nevertheless, there was something in her approach that bothered me a little.  Instead of just going over and politely knocking and asking them if they could try to quiet their dogs down because of her "day sleeping" needs, she was going door to door trying to drum up a little cabal to approach them en mass.                  # # # # #

While there could be a number of legitimate reasons why this lady was using this particular approach; it did remind me of a story I heard many years ago.

A family driving their car through a rural neighborhood stopped to ask an old man sitting on his front porch what kind of neighborhood 
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it was.                 

"We are thinking about moving here, and we would like to know what the neighbors are like" they told him.

The old gentlemen stroked his chin thoughtfully and slowly asked them, "Well, what were the neighbors like where you came from?"

"Oh, they were awful. Lots of problems. We didn't enjoy living there at all."

"I must tell you that you would find they are pretty much like that around here, too."

Keenly disappointed the family drove on down the road.

The following week another family stopped at the same old man's porch and asked a similar question.  They, too, were considering moving to his neighborhood.

"Well" he said carefully, "what were the neighbors like where you came from?"

"Oh, they were wonderful.  We enjoyed living among them and we were sorry we had to move."

"I think I can confidently tell you that you will find the neighbors here to be very much the same" he said with a smile.
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The moral being that sometimes we find the very thing we expect to find.  Smart-alacks call it a "self-fulfilling prophecy."  I don't know about that; but I do know from experience that more often than not we get what we go looking for.
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The *LOC and I came here a year ago looking only for a friendly, quiet place to hang our hats.  I am happy to report that our hats have hung undisturbed for a year now, and I am very thankful.  We found just what we went looking for.

Hope no one is disturbing your peace and quiet today.  And that wherever you hang your hat, you have found what you are looking for.  Until next time ... Marsha
*Lovable Old Coot

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I Saw An Unnerving Sight

I love landscaping.  I enjoy reading gardening books and magazines and then seeing where, and if, I can incorporate some of what I have read and seen into my own little half-acre of Paradise.

Sometimes I can.  Sometimes I can't.  This past summer my geraniums were infested with cut worms, and my gerber daisies wilted with white mildew.  Growing things is always a challenge.

Living in Sacramento for twenty years, we wrestled with hard pan clay that packed like cement when it was dry. I often felt like Tennyson's poor little "flower in a crannied wall" when trying to grow anything.  The forces of nature were definitely stacked against us in the heat of the Central Valley.  

We once paid good money for a lovely bougainvillea. We nicked named it "Bo" and I went out each day for months to tend it, talk to it, and water it.  But Bo bit the dust.  Baked in the hundred-plus degree heat.  I nearly cried. I had had visions of its blooms covering my back fence.
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With all the struggling I've done over this past year to try to turn an almost barren piece of land (except for a couple of dozen 75 ft. pine trees) into a gardened landscape, it was hard for me to imagine overdoing it.  I mean, come on, it is tough enough just to get something into the ground, get the soil amended correctly, and then get the watering routine right for that particular plant.  And don't get me started on "feeding" all this stuff correctly.  Trust me, we do not have that kind of time today.

However, the other day I drove onto a property that dumbfounded me and provided a cautionary tale.  It was clearly someone's vision at some point in time.  There was a sadly neglected gazebo with ratty looking patio furniture sitting in it, completely mismatched to the setting.        
pampas grass images
There was pampas grass that had gotten out of control, and was now eight feet high, and hid most of the entry to the property.  There was a circular drive, much like the one we had constructed in front of our house this past summer; but this one was so narrow, and overgrown from both sides that I feared for the paint on the sides of my car as I drove through it.

Most of the growth looked to be about eight or ten years old.  Here and there evidence of a garden plan still existed, albeit overgrown  and intermingled to the point that getting it sorted out would probably require a John Deere trencher, not just mowing and trimming.

Holy cow, Marsha!  Just look at this mess.  That was my first thought.  My second one was, "Let this be a lesson to you, in restraint and patience."

Ah, me.  I am so inclined to just keep filling up empty places in the yard that I could easily find myself living in a jungle five years from now.  Fortunately, it is cold and rainy this week.  All I can do is watch a little patch of grass I planted recently come up one blade at a time.  (Yes, I am easily entertained.  I've been know to watch paint dry with the fascination of one observing brain surgery.)

Still, that daunting mess I visited the other day, well, that throttled my jets a bit.  I think I will dial my gardening goals back, for now.  Good thing this has occurred just when I have little choice, since the winter dormancy is upon us for most growing things.

Guess it just goes to demonstrate once again that, as Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is a "time for everything" and purpose under heaven for all things.  A time to plant and a time to refrain from planting.  Growing a good life is much harder work than growing a good garden.

There have been times, when I have been tempted to just rush into filling "empty places in my life" with whatever I could plant there, regardless of whether it fit with any plan God might have for me.

Mostly I have resisted that inclination, but I am aware that it could reassert itself at any moment.  Thus, I must go now, and practice my refraining skills.  They are sorely under-developed.
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Hope you have a good view through whatever window you are gazing today.  Until next time ... Marsha
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Question:  Have you ever planted something you later regretted?  Have you ever had a garden get out of control?  Just asking?  :)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Small Service

How about a little Wordsworth, this evening?  I'm in the mood for it, and hope you might be, too.

The following quotes are from two different pieces by William W., but for me they have a related frame of reference.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils.  (1807)

Small service is true service (1835).

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The discussion leader at the Bible study this past Wednesday morning mentioned that she had no real friends from her youth because her father's work (he was an airline pilot) necessitated that they moved frequently.  I could relate.

A Chief Operating Officer (COO) that I once worked with told me that his wife had moved around a lot because her dad was in the military, and she therefore had no friends from her youth.  He, in contrast, had grown up in the same small town his entire life, and in fact, still lived near the street where he grew up.  He could not relate.

I asked him if it bothered his wife, her background and lack of roots.  His reply resonated with me.  He told me, "It didn't bother her at the time she was growing up.  But it bothers her a lot, now that she is older."

At the time I was working 50 to 55 hours a week, and had no time to  ponder his comments, but they stuck with me.  In the past year they struck a nerve.
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I have "wandered lonely as a cloud" for much of this past year; new town, new church, but little chance to make new friends due to family illness.  And there are no friends from "youth" as I moved many times from state to state and my short-lived school acquaintances did not survive.

To make matters worse, I am an introvert by nature, so it is easy for me to simply retreat to my own little house and read, work crossword puzzles, clean house, work in the yard, and just piddle around. It is difficult for me to reach out to new people.
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But our Bible study group has been hard hit with illnesses and surgeries this past month.  And thus an opportunity to offer a small service was available.

So today I chopped and simmered, sliced and diced, and enjoyed every minute of it. (Although I am not a great cook, I can follow a recipe.  And bake a pan of cornbread.  And toss a salad.  How hard is that?)

The smile on A.'s face, as well as her husband's, when I delivered their dinner this evening was not just a reward, it was a blessing.

I drove back to my house smiling too, thankful for the joy of giving a service.  Even a small one.  As Wordsworth wrote, "Small service is true service."

Proverbs says that anyone who would have a friend, must first be a friend.  A. invited me to come back and visit soon.  It could be that we will become friends.  But even if that does not occur, I have been blessed with the privilege of offering a small service.

Who knows, there may be a "crowd of daffodils" just around the corner.
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Hope you have a chance to offer some small service to someone soon.  If you do, don't pass it up.  There could be a bouquet of daffodils in it for you.  Until next time ... Marsha

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Some Dumb, But Not Plum Dumb

Detect Counterfeit US Money
Maybe they thought because I am past a certain age, I would fall for it.

Maybe they thought I would be so greedy, or so desperate, that I would go for it.

Maybe they just thought their paperwork was so genuine looking, that I would fall for it.
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They were wrong.  

This week I received some paperwork in the mail, with air mail postage affixed, looking pretty "official".

Inside was a check that also looked real.  I looked at both sides, I peered at it closely over a light bulb, and sure enough there was the watermark, that generally means the check is legitimate.  This was not a little two-nickles-and-a-penny piece of paper, either.  It was written in the amount of a few thousand dollars, to me, at my correct home address.  Huh?

The *LOC and I are veteran Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy watchers, so we know about prizes and prize money.  We watch folks win stuff most every evening.

Still, as I read, and re-read, the letter enclosed with the check it just didn't sit right.  It purported to be a sweepstakes drawing for the customers of a group of stores at which I frequently shop, including the largest retailer in the world.  It said it was limited to those who had shopped at these stores within the past six months (which I had done on any number of occasions.)

Further, it did not request any advance money to cash this check (although it mentioned taxes that would be due) and then an even larger check would be issued, as the "balance of my prize money" it said was due to be awarded to me.  It did not request any personal information.

But it still did feel right.  Something was just ever so slightly off about the whole deal.

What is the BBB (Better Business Bureau) for, if not for these very kinds of situations?  But giving the BBB a call is not as easy as it once was.  First, I had to check several phone books looking for a BBB listing.  No luck.

Next, I chose the business organization that seemed to most closely align with good business practices and called their number.  The lady there informed me that due to budget cuts, there was no longer any local BBB.  The closest one was in Sacramento.  She gave me the phone number.

A lady with a world-weary voice, name of Wynetta, answered my call.  I described the material I had received, described the check and asked if they had received any reports of scams in our region resembling this?

"Oh, only about a ton.", she intoned in a bored tone.

"So it is a scam?", I asked, just to be sure I understood her laconic response.

"Yes, it is a scam."

"So the check is not real?  Because it looks very real."

"Oh, it is real all right.  You can deposit it in your bank and they will accept it."

I was sitting there holding the receiver with a puzzled look on my face, as she continued.

"And about thirty days from now you will get a call from your bank and you will owe them money."

"Ahhh, the check ultimately bounces, but meanwhile they have obtained my bank routing information from the back of the bad check stamped with my bank's information.  Is that it?"

"Riiight" she drawled, even wearier than before.
I thanked her and hung up.  As they say where I once lived for a short time, "I may be some dumb, but I'm not plum dumb."
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I just hate this sort of thing; not because I have ever fallen for one of these stupid scams, but because I am always reminded that some little old lady or man, somewhere, has opened one of the tens of thousands that they sent out, and the first thing they know, they have been cleaned out.

It always comes down to the oldest cautionary adage known, "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is."
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Hope no one gave you any wooden nickles today.  But if they tried it, I hope you gave them no satisfaction, and warned your next door neighbor.  Until next time ... Marsha

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Doing Laundry - A Church Analogy

Pink old fashioned washing machine :-)This morning, as the tea kettle was preparing to boil, I decided to start the first load of laundry. It was only a few cleaning towels and rags, but I don't like to mix them with the "regular" wash.

So I threw them in the front-loader, punched a few buttons on the control panel, poured in a little liquid bleach and detergent and pressed "Start."  I could hear the quiet hum of the machine as I went back to pour my tea.

As I listened to the machine begin its work, I was struck by how completely effortless laundry is today compared to my youth.  While I am not old enough to remember the days of the "wash board" (that was my grandmother's generation) I do recall wringer washing machines of long ago.

Every family had some horror story about someone they knew, or had at least heard about, who had caught a finger or two, or even an entire arm in the wringer.  Every young girl, when being apprenticed to do family laundry, learned how to carefully set the rollers, and then even more carefully "feed the clothes" into and through the wringer.

The wash was usually only done one day a week, and for our household it was Saturdays.  And it was an all-day affair.  Each load could take from twenty minutes to an hour, depending upon whether it had to have a second rinse and/or go through a starch solution.

Each item was run through the wringer, out of the main machine tub, into a rinse water tub, then each item was again run through the wringer into a basket.

The basket was then carried to the back yard clothesline, where you hung up each item with clothes pins. These pins might be of the "stick on" variety, which had two "legs" and a "head" which we sometimes made little dolls out of; or they might be the spring-hinged type, which could pinch your fingers if you were not careful.
clothes line
If your family consisted of several people as ours did, you likely would have eight or ten loads each week, and if each load took an hour to wash, wring, rinse, wring, starch, wring, then hang - well, you were looking at a long day.  
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Today, I never spend an entire day doing laundry.  Generally, I throw in a load here or there, whenever the fancy strikes me.

The machines do all the work, except for folding and putting away, and even that small effort sometimes irritates me as being a complete waste of time.  Perhaps I have become lazy.
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In my youth, we often walked to church. Once there, we  actively participated in the services (as compared to passively sitting in a pew and watching the service unfold).  For instance, when the song leader called out the page number in the hymnal, pages could be heard rustling all over the auditorium; and when the organist and pianist hit the first notes, nearly every voice in the place was raised in glad song.   After the sermon and closing prayer, we stood around talking with our friends for quite awhile. Eventually we walked home.
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These days, we can hardly be bothered to actually participate.  The congregational singing is often so weak that I am careful to sing very quietly, because if I let go "full-throated" I could drown out the whole kit and kaboodle, and wouldn't that be embarrassing?

We no longer use much "bleach" in our services.  Old hymns with language like "What can wash away my sins?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus." are rarely heard.

We don't "hang much out to dry" either.  We used to have what was called "testimony time" in the old church services.  During this time, any attendee could stand give a "praise report" or a prayer request.  It was through such testimonies that my faith was often challenged, as I heard first hand of the struggles others were encountering.  

And it was through these reports of answered prayer that my faith was strengthened and inspired to strive for a higher calling.  Sure, sometimes someone would stand and deliver an ill-advised soliloquy; and listeners would cringe a little.  So what?  We got over it and moved on.

Now, only those who have been thoroughly vetted for oddities, personality quirks, or some off-beat doctrinal stance, are ever allowed to speak in even the smallest way.  Much like those old wringer-machines, which could be labor intensive but were also pretty satisfying when the clean garments came squeezing through the rollers, so hearing a quavery-voiced old man speak of God's unfailing faithfulness (even though when he stood no one knew what he might say) gave soul satisfaction in a way that many of the currently sanitized announcements and activities do not.

And forget about "standing around" and visiting after services.  Our pastor actually had to ask people to either stay after service and visit for a few minutes, or if they must leave immediately, to please remember to behave like Christians getting out of the jammed parking lot!  (No, I am not making this up.)
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Those old church auditoriums were often drafty in winter and in summer they were hotter than where-we-so-fervently-did-not-wish-to-end-up.  But the people were real, down-to-earth, genuine fellow laborers together.  We painted church kitchens, scrubbed church bathrooms, and sorted junk stuff for rummage sales together.

Today we have professionally back-lit stages, professional musicians who would not dare hit a wrong note, and computer controlled "everything" from the temperature to the drop-down menus for the announcements.  It is clean and pleasant.

So is the laundry I just put away ... clean and pleasant, that is.  But it gave me no heart satisfaction.  Of course, this could just be me.  
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Hope someone or something gave you a little heart satisfaction today.  Until next time ... Marsha