Saturday, September 30, 2006

Pearls of Great Price...

I've always appreciated and admired Pearls. Not only are they the stone for June, my birthmonth- they are formed in such an amazing way!! Ever heard the phrase, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade"?? Well there are certain creatures who literally live by this principle.
Pearls are created in nature when a grain of sand enters an Oyster shell. Being composed of soft, muscular tissue and having no way to cast out the sand, after the tiny granule enters the shell of the mollusk, an amazing work begins. This little sea creature begins to deposit a specialized calcium coating over the irritant. Plain old sand, becomes something beautiful! Some Pearls are completely round, other times pear, potato, or tear shaped. They come in a variety of glossy colors: White, Black, Lavender, Pink, Gray, etc- but all are precious. Men known as Pearl Divers can hold their breath up to 6 minutes while diving down to retrieve a single oyster, in search of a Pearl.

Ten Interesting Facts About Pearls:

1 - Pearls are the only precious gemstones made by living animals. (Sorry folks, but kidney stones don't count. ha ha)
2 - Tenderly harvesting pearls from Mollusks does not kill the animals, as they can be re-implanted and used to make more Pearls.
3 - Akoya, or Saltwater Pearls come from oysters, but Freshwater Pearls usually come from mussels, although all mollusks can make Pearls.
4 - Pearls take their color from the inside of the shell in which they are growing.
5 - Virtually all pearls today are "cultured" or "cultivated". Harvesting "natural" pearls is hard due to water pollution, Tsunamis, and other phenomena that make it difficult to leave oysters safely in the water long enough to grow sizeable pearls.
6 - Every Pearl is unique. No two are exactly alike, and all have some imperfections when closely examined.

7 - The oldest known Pearl jewelry piece was found in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess who died in 520 BC.
8 - Pearls vary in value depending on size, shape and where they are from. Large, round Tahitian Pearls are normally the most expensive. A sizeable pearl takes many years to develop. The largest pearl ever recorded was 24 millimeters in diameter.
9 - Pearl farming is known as "Periculture." In this technique, a grain of sand in inserted so a pearl can be made.
10 - In 1916, Jacques Cartier bought his 5th Avenue store by trading two Pearl necklaces for the land.

Jesus Christ once told a story about a 'Pearl of Great Price'. A wealthy merchantman sold everything he had in order to search for and obtain this precious treasure. It must have been a lovely Pearl! From our perspective, Jesus is the Pearl. However, did you know that when Jesus told this parable, 'The Pearl of Great Price' represented you and I? God has given everything in order to ransom us from the Evil One who enjoys tormenting us in this life. That's right, we can blame the Devil and not God for the horrible things we endure. I am confident this reality is not all there is for us- to go through so many trials and simply die- end of story... there has to be more...

People remind me of Pearl fact #6- with our different shapes, sizes, gifts and talents- but each in need of love, mercy, forgiveness and the righteousness of God. Guess you could say, Pearls are born-again grains of sand. They go into the mollusk small and simple, but over time, they come out stunning!!! God's love does the same with us.
I believe the mollusk has a wonderful and artistic coping mechanism- don't you!?
Like Pearl fact #4, we are meant to become like our Maker.

I hope next time you see a Pearl you will smile!! :o)

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Bad News Blues...

Guess I've got an axe to grind with the News services. Having battled serious depression for 3 years, I had to take a break from watching, reading or listening to the news. Why is it they mainly report the most awful stuff?

This morning's "uplifting" news included:

Death of an officer and his dog, wounding of a second officer- the man who shot them was killed by police hours later.
Shooting/abduction/assault at Colorado highschool, in which a group of hostage teenage girls were sexually assaulted- one 16 year old shot was in the head and killed as she tried to flee her captor.
An update on a boy who survived being savagely ripped from his mother's womb in 1995.
An update on the death toll and terrorist activities in Iraq

I suppose the public has a right to know what's going on. However, I'm a very tender-hearted mother and these stories just rip me apart! Every time I hear of someone dying, my heart grieves... that person was somebody's baby. I have cried so many tears over stories like these. I hold my daughters closer today- guess it could happen anywhere. I remember the day a gunman made his way into my children's school just 2 years ago. My oldest 2 children were huddled under desks in dark classrooms for 2 hours until police were able to talk the enraged Meth dealer out of the building without doing any harm. Meanwhile, I was blissfully unaware that anything was wrong as I went through my housekeeping routine at home. When I learned what happened, it was traumatic for me. We had done everything to try and create a safe, quiet life for our kids. I felt so nauseaus I couldn't eat for a couple of days and I was left feeling even more despondant.
What kind of people do these horrible things?!? How do human beings, designed to enjoy tenderness and healthy relationships turn so cold and selfish against other human beings?? How could any grown man look at a sweet, tender 16 year old, find pleasure in assaulting her in front of her friends, then shoot her dead, before killing himself? Are these people Devil possessed? I couldn't sleep for weeks after the Andrea Yates story broke. These stories are very disturbing and I don't mean to ruin your day with all this, just sharing my thoughts here.

Even in churches, you tend to hear the worst news discussed from the pulpit and over lunch with much speculation about the end of the world. Shouldn't we focus on the Good News?
I KNOW there's great stuff happening out there- why do we seem to feed on the bad stuff? Is it because we've become so hardened that only extremely disturbing news sells these days? Or because bad news really does occur more now than ever before and the acts are so horrendous that they overshadow any good that exists?

Good news is that in many areas teen pregnancy rates are dropping as are HIV infections. Abortion rates are going down and adoptions are going up. Medical science is making awesome discoveries everyday. Things are looking up in New Orleans. Gas prices are going down. There are still a lot of genuine people out there with a heart for helping others. Good things still happen! That's what I must force myself to focus on- or I would probably plunge right back into depression...

I have always said that if I were rich enough, I would seriously consider starting my own News Company that features the positive aspects of culture and humanity. I want to believe there is good in all people and that happiness is still possible...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Making Memories...

My heart feels very melancholy today. My oldest daughter will be 16 in only 4 years- it hits me like a ton of bricks. I really don't have much time left with my kids before school activities & relationships outside the family become more of a priority to them. I've been thinking today about what I want to give my children:

Unconditional acceptance.
Freedom to think and question intelligently.
A love for being active.
Plenty of hugs and smiles.
Two parents who love each other.
A shoulder to cry on when life gets tough.
Well-prepared family meals

Most of all I want to provide plenty of good memories. I don't have many- having had a pretty dysfunctional early life, but the few memories I do have are very precious to me. How I treasured walking in the woods with my Aunt Elaine. One Winter, when we still lived in our little house on the mountain, Mama tried to save money on electricity, so we heated our house with wood and burned candles after dark. She would light a big lantern and read to us by it while my brother & I snuggled under blankets. I remember feeling so cozy. Fishing and mushroom hunting with Grandpa Campbell was always enjoyable and sitting on the porch of his cottage watching a storm roll in and listening to stories. When we lived in Missouri, every Spring the entire family would gather at Grandpa's house for an Easter dinner & egg hunt- what fun! Then there was the time my Step-mother's cat had a litter of kittens in my sister's closet. She, my brother and two step-siblings would sit at the closet door observing those little creatures and talking about all sorts of things. In recent years there have been several family reunions with my father's family- which was also enjoyable. I hold on to the happy memories from my childhood like a drowing person clings to a life preserver in a rough sea.

I could work myself into the ground trying to provide designer clothing, toys etc. I could try and dress my children like uptown kids and buy them gifts all the time, but the newness wears off. These things break down, burn and can be stolen. However nobody can steal your memories. So, my man and I choose to give them plenty of happy days and good times.

My new philosophy on life has freed me up to be a better Mom. Letting go of my Pharisee life means I'm not constantly beating myself up for not being perfect, and I'm no longer straining to measure up. God loves me and I like myself.
My husband and kids have noticed a difference in me and my enjoyment of them continues to grow. There are certain signs that indicate God is leading me on the right path- this being one of them. Another sign is that my heart is bigger toward other people and I have regained a sense of child-like curiosity once again. A heavy load has been lifted from my shoulders and I am slipping the clutches of depression on a daily basis. One major step is to cleanse my life of toxic influences. I know people mean well, but I am a moderately intelligent, thinking adult- don't need constant correction- that only serves to make me feel quite bad about myself. I have done a very good job of self-condemnation in the past- I don't need any help in that direction. I've always been extremely hard on myself. Not anymore. I'm learning to accept who I am- flaws and all. I still want to be the best person I can be, but I now have some room to breathe...

There are many things I'd like to do with and for my children. Several trips to take. We would love to take them on a short-term mission trip. I think it's good for them to see a different side of life.
Some of the most pleasant times we've had with our kids were while sitting around the fireplace eating popcorn and reading 'Little House on the Prairie' books. Sometimes we build bonfires in the back yard and just sing together. Since they sing harmony- we have quite the little choir going on. Summer of 2005 we went to a beach resort on Nagshead for a week. LOVED walking the beach together in the evenings. The kids would scurry around looking for treasures. They would get so thrilled- even over pieces of shell and strands of seaweed. We laughed together as we watched the sandpipers on their long, skinny legs and the kids would chase crabs up & down the beach. We fell into our beds totally worn out and excited to see what the next day would bring. We've been boating a time or two with the kids and that is always a good memory. I even took them fishing several times- didn't really catch anything- just fun to try. Every year, we send them off to summer camp for a week. We are doing our best to give them a good life. Part of that is for me to be more relaxed and less intense. God is working on that. I have been off my anti-depressants for nearly 5 months now and I'm doing well, considering what we've been through the last 5 years.

We are looking forward to bringing our puppy home in October. I think we will have some really good memories built around our new addition. There is something bonding about having pets. My oldest daughter and I have such great moments while doing barn chores or cooking together in the kitchen. Today Jay told me he would like to see us get some goats, a cow & possibly a horse or two for our pasture. That would be a lot of fun. The next several weeks we will be gathering firewood for Winter and that is always a good bonding time with the kids. Soooo looking forward to Thanksgiving!! :o)

Someday when I die, I hope to leave my family with lots of good memories that will keep them warm in my absence.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Noah's Plea...

For over a hundred years a devoted, elderly man stood before mocking crowds inviting them to "come into the ark and be saved". Behind him stood a large wooden vessel that by faith he and his sons had built. Grace and Mercy were being offered before destruction was to fall upon a corrupt planet in the form of a flood. According to the story, in the end, only 8 were saved. Why? First of all the people doubted that it would ever rain as Noah warned. Secondly, the act of entering the ark wasn't hard, sophisticated or scientific enough for the crowd of intellects. To enter the ark meant leaving community, houses and riches behind. Entering the ark meant earning the ridicule of the other wise sages, advisors, friends and neighbors. Most painfully, to get on board meant breaking ties and losing influence with family and peers.

Today, Grace and Mercy are still being offered. The Holy Spirit pleads "Come into the Ark and be saved". The Ark is NOT a denomination, but Christ Himself. He IS the surest Vessel, the Rock that cannot be moved, the Shelter in the time of storm, the Stone which the builders rejected.

When a life is truly surrendered to God, He will change that person from the inside out. A short-tempered person becomes calm. A driven personality finds peace. Those who slowly kill themselves with destructive behaviors learn a better way. It may take years, but change WILL come if the person sincerely wants to be like Jesus. They will have a heart for the poor, for the downtrodden and the outcast. They will not steal, cheat or lie, not because of a focus on "keeping" stone tablets, but because the heart is no longer as selfish as it once was. That person may still have many questions about their faith- but God is big and patient enough to answer. To ponder one's purpose and place in religion, to be honest about one's journey is not being disrespectful or hateful to anyone. To press for reform in a church that admittedly is in need of change is not being a "divider of the brethren" or a "hateful worker of iniquity".

Reality is, my friends, the church has never been blissfully unified- which has been a large part of my frustration. There have always been Liberal, Conservative, Ultra-Conservative, Independant factions and highly contested issues from the very start. (I know this because I have been all of these in my attempts to be what God wants me to be.)
The most destructive attitude of all is that which says, "You must act, think, worship, eat, dress, express yourself and agree with me on every little point in order to be acceptable to God." Just as there were many different animals of all kinds, shapes and species that entered the ark, there is also room for variety in the Ark- which is Christ. (yes it's true- read your prophet) We are different, but we are of the same God. It is He who works in us, both to will and to do His good pleasure.

I'm not beyond making a mistake, but my heart is in the right place. I seek a kingdom not built by human hands, but by the very hand of God. Am I angry- yes I am. I choose to forgive, I don't hate anyone, but great wrongs have been done to my family and to some of my dearest friends. It's going to take a while to heal.
These days I am regarded either with cold, indifferent silence- don't think I don't feel it- or I become the recipient of scolding lectures and letters from people who claim to be "concerned" for me. Strangely enough there are no letters of correction being written to those who mistreated my family- it comes our way for feeling hurt & disillusioned about it- as if we have no right to feel or express ourselves- even anonymously on a blog. Clearly these people are NOT really concerned for us but for protecting the validity of a religion. The best thing that could ever be done is to love me, folks- that's all I've ever wanted. REALLY love me, invest in me and treat me with genuine kindness- not just saying pretty words and offering token gestures of friendship in order to gain influence over me and bend me to your will. I am a broken person and a sinner- I admit it constantly, why do people feel a need to chastize me? Is it because the message I share is such a simple one? Are my words so insulting??

"Come to Jesus and know the abundant life He offers". "Come to Jesus and find rest for your souls". "Come to God and know that you are loved". "Dance before your Maker in the freedom of the Spirit". "Repent and you will be forgiven because God is merciful". "Live by conviction". "Make peace with those around you- even if they are different from you". Please tell me which part of my message is hateful and vindictive??

Sin goes far beyond transgression of the law- it has been oversimplified for generations. Anything done without faith is also sin. That means, if I'm not convicted in my heart, yet do whatever I am told- I am not walking in faith but in conformity. The church or any of it's members cannot be my conscience and I will no longer apologize for living.

I am taking the first big steps to enter the Ark of safety. There are many voices calling my name, trying to hold me back, telling me I'm being foolish, that I'm going about it all wrong, but there is only One Voice I can listen to. That is the voice of a simple Shepherd from Galilee who loves me and finds me beautiful- scarred as I am... He tenderly bids this little lamb to come into the Ark and be saved...

Still Learning!

There is a woman I've met recently that I much admire. I guess she is somewhere in her late 70's- early 80's. She is brilliant and her gray eyes still sparkle. Despite many years of struggle on this earth- including the loss of her youngest son in Vietnam and having lived alone for 22 yrs after the passing of her beloved husband, she remains open-hearted and soft of spirit. She refused to remarry and still wears the ring her husband placed on her finger when they said their vows. She says she's content living alone with her little dogs, because a love like they had only comes along once. She is part of the 'Red Hat Society', remains active on the hospitality committee of her Methodist church, is well-read and able to converse on just about any topic. Her favorite thing to talk about is God. She attends the YMCA, exercising faithfully when many people her age give in to their aches and pains and quit moving. Though she has battled Osteoporosis and has a slightly stooped back, she has the agility of someone half her age!

When I met her, there was an immediate connection between us. She just looked at me with this knowing glance and smiled. She is the dearest, most devoted lady- I just want to hug her and kiss her cheeks. (I'm afraid to come across as sappy and scare her off- so I pat her shoulder instead) She is so different- I just want to get to know her better. I have met few people like her. One day I asked, "How do you stay so young at heart and optimistic? How do you stay so enthusiastic and current on things?" She gave me a warm smile that intensified the creases around her eyes and said, "Well, I just keep learning. I don't have all the answers- nobody does, child. Stay teachable and pliable and make the most of every day. Most of all, walk humbly with the good Lord- He will never lead you down the wrong path".

I feel like I could confess anything to her or ask any question and not be dismissed or fall under judgement. Guess I am drawn to the elderly since I wasn't able to have a close relationship with any of my Grandparents and they are all gone now. I feel a longing to connect with someone that age. The older generation is so often an untapped resource of wisdom. Society tends to write them off and many become bitter and despondant, but not Martha.

I love this dear lady and believe she has tapped into great wisdom. Meeting people like her marks important milestones in my journey. They encourage me to keep seeking truth, to keep asking questions and to keep praying.

God, don't ever let me be satisfied to think that I have all the answers. Shake me, move me forward... when we stop learning, we die.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

What God Wants...

"Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest for your souls." - Jesus Christ

As human beings, we work hard. We climb our way up social ladders at work, within the family and in the church. We love to have influence. We often work very hard for approval and affirmation from others and from God. Most people are willing to work for what they want in this life. In the end we are burned-out emotionally and exhausted physically. I know, I've been there. However, in the process of breathlessly spinning my wheels, a Still Small Voice invites me to rest.
I wrestled with the question many years ago, "Is there a God?". I feel His presence, I cannot deny that He exists. So then the question became "What does He want from me?". There are many opinions out there about what God wants. Here is what I have discovered recently about what God wants:

1.) He Wants Relationship with Us.

Today, like so many weekends before, I stood before an audience with 'Message of Mercy' singing my heart out for 3 different church services. The first service broke our hearts. During the song service, they sat there just as dull and expressionless as could be. The few who did sing, you couldn't hear them- their lips barely moved. The faces looked as if they were bored to death- even as we sang 'How Great Thou Art'. Now I'm not saying everyone should jump around & shout, or even sing loudly, but why not a smile or a look of satisfaction on the faces? As musicians, we invest ourselves heavily in the music. We can feel the energy drained from us after a performance before a lethargic and unresponsive audience. Reminds me of the passage where Jesus laments saying, "We played the flute for you, but you would not dance, so we played a durge, but you would not mourn." He is saddened because the people will not respond to Him- no matter what He does to reach them. I want with all my heart for people to know this wonderful God who works so patiently with me! It was clear to me that many who attend the first service need an infusion of new life in the Spirit. Some (perhaps a majority) of these people have flogged themselves into living a certain lifestyle and holding to things they didn't even completely understand because that is what their church expected of them and they were convinced that was what God wanted from them. But all the good behavior in the world cannot make up for a lack of relationship. Imagine if me- as a wife kept the house perfectly (with 4 active kids- ain't gonna happen) but imagine if I got up early and stayed up into the wee hours of the night to keep an immaculate house- constantly cleaning. However, whenever my husband approached me for relationship I was dull-eyed, tired and apparently bored to be in his presence. Then I would not be a happy wife, but a worn-out slave. If the church is the bride of Christ, she has been more of a slave than a wife. Until she sees how much she is loved, she will never be able to respond to God in the way He desires. Relationship first.

2.) He Wants our Praise Not Our Perfection.

Ever heard the phrase "Work smarter- not harder?". I worked quite hard, but never felt accepted by my parents or my church, so I buckled down with my nose to the grindstone, determined to win them over. However, God is not asking ME to be perfect. God alone is perfect and He is willing to impart that perfection to me. God loves His creations and invites us to wear His Robe of Righteousness. There is nothing we can do to make Him love us less and there is nothing we can do to make Him love us more. "For I have loved you with an everlasting love." "And this is love, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us". If God's love was based on our performance, then we would have power over Him. We do not tip the scale or change God's mind about us or that would make us gods with influence over Him. He alone is Sovereign! He created us and not we ourselves. Salvation is through God- not through man. Psalm 150 entreats, "Praise God in His Sanctuary; Praise Him in the firmament! Praise Him for His mighty acts; Praise Him according to His excellent greatness! Praise Him with the sound of trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with the Timbrel and DANCE; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!"
Hebrews 13:15, "Therefore, by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name."
I recently joined a Liturgical Dance group with my sisters in Christ. I have danced before the Lord on many occasions in the past- what a beautiful, freeing experience!! I showed up for my first session, arriving 15 minutes early. I entered the room and there was my mentor. Much to my surprise & delight, she is African American- what a testimony she has! :o) She's the first to admit she's not the most attractive woman in the world, being overweight with hair cut closely to her head. But when she started the music and began to dance before the Lord, I saw a transformation! She moved gracefully and passionately before her Maker! Her heart, indeed her spirit was opened tenderly before Him- she was so beautiful I was moved to tears. Then my friend Kim arrived. Now Kim is not really a dancer. She is somewhat uncomfortable with such movement, but decided to try. She too is lovely when she offers her praise. One lady comes and learns the motions, but each week they have to pray & encourage her. She is obese and feels that since she doesn't have a perfect body, she has no right to get up to praise God in this way. I'm so glad we don't have to be perfect in body or spirit to worship the Lord! There is something beautiful and humbling about coming before God as fallen beings who do not let our imperfections stand in the way of praise. God asks that we present our bodies a living sacrifice. Under the Old Covenant, animals were offered as sacrifices. Under the New Covenant we offer a sacrifice of praise for what God has done to redeem fallen humanity and it is beautiful in His sight.

3.) God Wants Us to Enter His Rest.

Rest is such a foreign concept. Psalm 37:3-7, "Trust in the Lord and do good. Dwell in the land and feed upon His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. COMMIT YOUR WAYS to the Lord, TRUST also in Him, and HE SHALL BRING IT TO PASS. HE SHALL BRING FORTH YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS AS THE LIGHT, and your justice as the noonday. REST IN THE LORD, and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of evil-doers, or the corrupt man who prospers in his way, because of wicked schemes. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; DO NOT WORRY for it only causes harm. Evildoers will be cut off; but those who wait on the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. I capitalized the key points in this passage. What is this passage saying? It's saying to confess (or commit) our deeds to God. Let Him know the ways you feel you are inadequate. Then we are to trust Him to work in us to produce righteousness. He WILL bring it to pass. The Rest God offers is not merely observing a day of worship. It is a continual dwelling in His presence and an acceptance of His work in us.

Finally, God wants us to draw near to him- flaws, scars and all. He wants us to bask in His presence- face to face when this earthly life is over. He wants us to have a life of joy in the midst of chaos. Most of all He simply wants US! Amazing love!!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Herman is Gone...

Our dear friend and neighbor Herman Randles has passed away. The cancer that was in his leg finally moved into his spine. He stood up from his chair and 3 vertebrae collapsed. Despite terrible pain, he somehow managed to crawl to the phone and dialed 911 for help. (We were at church when this happened.) We came back and he was gone... never to return. His family came soon after and took everything out of the place- including the 2 front porch swings. Now the little cottage sits empty and dark. Each time I look out my window, there is a little stab of sadness in my heart.

Herman was a different sort of fellow, but always very respectful of all people and of living things. After being married 30 years and fathering 3 daughters, he simply decided he preferred a solitary life and moved to this property. It was heavily forested and he cleared it himself. (This place looks like a park on a hillside now.) He was careful to leave a lot of the trees in place- including the Dogwoods and whispering Pines that delight us so. He raised all kinds of animals here. Cows, pygmy goats, and a big pig. Stray cats that passed through always found a ready meal. A fighting cock and a hen from a neighbor way down the road somehow managed to escape their fates and made their way up to Herman's hill. He was happy to see them and put scratch out for them. That one mated pair started the big flock of semi-wild chickens that wander around our property today. Herman loved squirrels so he built a box that sat on top of the fence and kept it filled with corn so they could come feast without his dogs harassing them. In many ways I admire Herman. He was able to let go of all the things most people spend their lives chasing after. He had a little old pick-up truck, lived in a simple cottage he built himself, ate simple food and had about 5 outfits to his name. He took time to sit out on the front porch swing to breathe and reflect. If he heard about a family in need, he would give them money or buy them food. Our table was graced many times with jams he made himself. Herman took time to study the creatures and the earth. He raised healthy animals and lots of produce. He was in the military for 30 years and served in WWII, but he hated war and only ever wanted peace. He allowed one of his daughters and her family to put a house on the 5 1/2 acres and when they decided to move closer to town, he let them sell the entire place and keep the profit. When we purchased this property, they asked if we would like to have a renter and of course we said, "yes". So Herman stayed in his little cottage on the hill right up until the end of his life. We would check on him as frequently as we could without making him feel smothered. I was quite upset to see that Herman's Dr. was using him as a guinea pig for any and all experimental cancer medications. Some of the pills made him so sick he couldn't stand up or even eat. So he would complain and they would put him on something even worse. Finally, he said "Forget it, I'm not taking anything else. I am an old man. I know I'm dying and I want to spend the last part of my life on my feet and able to eat." (I think I would have done the same.)

Herman would seek me out when he was lonely. I will miss him calling me or making his way down the path to my door every so often inviting me up for a Coke. He loved to talk about his travels around the world, about his daughters and the many animals he had raised. He touched my life and the lives of many others, yet never belonged to any church. He was simply a wonderful person. He was in a great deal of pain toward the end and I was relieved to hear that he passed quietly in his sleep.

Farewell Herman, you fought your final battle with the courage of a soldier. I will always smile when I remember you...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

An Audience of One...

In the end it doesn't matter what anyone else says. What do you know in your heart to be true? This is what you must live by and hold to. Everyone has an opinion and an angle. I must be true to the Voice that speaks in me and live my life for an Audience of One.
As I read through scripture, I see many, many people who did what they knew was right- even though many others would never understand. I think first of the prophet Hosea. God told him to marry a whore named Gomer, to love her and be faithful and kind to her. Can you imagine the thoughts that ran through Hosea's mind?! "But God, I'm a believer and this is really going to smear my reputation if I marry a loose woman." "But God, how will the people ever respect or listen to me unless my wife is a perfect example?" Hosea does not throw up any arguments, he simply obeys God and learns to love Gomer and takes her back many times. God's ways are mysterious! Sometimes what seems madness or foolishness to the wise, is exactly what God uses to bring about His will.
How about Daniel? He and his friends stood up to peer pressure many times while in Babylon. They refused to eat food that was harmful to their health. They would not bow to worship an image as commanded and were thrown into a fiery furnace, but surived. Later in Daniel's life he prayed openly to God 3 times a day- even when it was forbidden by threat of death. Daniel succeeded, because he lived for an Audience of One.
Then there is The Christ. His message was vastly different than that of other religious leaders of His time. In a culture where religion was profitable, He had no home of his own, no seat on His local church board, no donkey of His own to ride. He spoke the truth in love, with authority in His voice- even when others wanted Him to be silent. He lived and laid down His life according to the will of God. He brought the kingdom of Heaven near. Not a kingdom of men, but that of God. A kingdom that reaches out to whores, tax-collectors, lepers, zealots, beggers and outcasts- for no other reason than the fact that they are breathing human beings. (Jesus cared so much He even went beyond the living and reached out to the dead- raising them back to life.) He is doing that for me. Though I breathed, I was dead inside. Dead- both in my sins and in my efforts to compensate for those sins by good behavior. I was defeated and depressed. God is reaching into the darkness of my soul and raising me into newness of life. I cannot be silent about what I have learned!

There is a point of letting go. A place of surrender where all human agendas, dreams, goals and mindsets must be laid at the feet of God. I am in an intense phase of my spiritual journey. It cannot be about me anymore, it must be about what God wants and has done for me. I have asked Him to show me truth- painfully, it often differs from what the majority believe. It's not going to win me any popularity contests. God's ways are not my ways. I am asked to surrender everything to Him. The scales are falling off my eyes. It is an amazing and terrifying process, but one I believe necessary in order for me to learn how to love not- only God, but myself and those around me. I do not have the words to describe what I feel inside, but there is a living connection. I have cried many tears of frustration, but also of joy. I have studied and prayed until late hours of the night until I felt like my soul was being drawn out of me. Like Jacob long ago, I am wrestling with God, but in the end I know He will prevail and I love Him for it.

Monday, September 18, 2006

It's My Favorite Season!

Autumn is the best time of year- in my opinion. I love the cool, crisp freshness in the air. The bugs go away and I feel so alive when the temperature drops. I enjoy hearing the geese as they fly overhead in a V formation. I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. The animals even act differently. Instead of laying down lazily in the fields, the cows and goats are up and about kicking up their heels. The chickens are happier and more active in the yard.

The Dogwood trees in our yard are beginning to change colors already. We are gathering firewood so we can enjoy quiet evenings by the fireplace again this year.

I've always been more of a cold weather girl than a Summer lover. With my fair skin, I'm not into baking in the sun. I do much better in chilly climates with long sleeves & pants on. As a child, Fall was always exciting because it meant the holidays and snow would soon follow. Well, we don't get much snow here in TN, but I am praying for at least several inches that will stick around long enough so we can make good use of our big sledding hill. The kids would love it! Had our hopes up last year, but only got a light dusting.

Jay & I dream of someday retiring in Montana or Wyoming. We really don't need much, just a simple house with wood heat, a guest bedroom and some acreage on which to recreate. Since we both love cold weather, wildlife and fresh air, it would suit us. It's not that we want solitude, we'd probably live near a town to maintain a social element. Life is just different and slower in big sky country. Every time we have passed through the area, we both feel it's where we're meant to be someday. We'll see...

In the meantime, I'm trying to make the most of my time in TN. :o) If you could live anywhere in the world- where would you be and why??

Friday, September 15, 2006

End of the Week...

Sooooo glad it's Friday! It's been long and busy and I'm ready for some rest.

Highs for the Week:

Working more hours and getting to know my YMCA co-workers better- what a great bunch!! They continue to raz me a bit, giving me tidbits of misinformation in order to make me blush- all in good fun though.
Starting my 'Fit Kids' program at the 'Y'. I had 27 participants this week ages 6-10!
Great weather coming in for Fall.
Dinner out with my family at my favorite Mexican restaurant.
Spending time with the kids. (They are SO interesting to chat with.)
Having the awesome privilege of selling a membership to Ben Sain and his wife Jane N. Sain (not kidding!). Mr. Leon Pickleschmeir (yep- it's pronounced Pickle SMEAR. Try dealing with that and keeping a straight face! I did okay, but the other girl behind the desk kept giggling and it was hard to keep my composure. The staff picked up on my 'Greta Goolahee' stunt and now whenever things go wrong they say, "Greta did it". LOL
I've got 20 of the cutest little baby chicks down in my barn. :o)
Enjoyed the song, 'Live Like You Were Dying' by Tim McGraw

Part 2 of the health convention is this weekend, so it's not going to be a total R&R, but I so enjoy learning about the body and how to better care for it...

Hope you have a good one too!! :o)

Puffy White Clouds...

The weather has turned gorgeous here in TN! Yesterday the humidity level and temperature dropped. There was a gentle breeze and the sky was my favorite. Deep blue with big puffy white & silver clouds- beautiful!! It was one of those days when you just want to be outside and today looks very promising. As I was driving in to work with my windows rolled down, I admired the sky as I sat at a traffic light. The clouds were so bright, white and inviting- I just wanted to reach out and touch one. The whole idea of sitting on a cloud and playing a harp? (Forgettaboutit- that only happens in cartoons) It's amazing how something can look like a solid mass, but when you get closer to the clouds you find there really is no substance to them- instead they are only masses of misty vapors.

To read, investigate and share what I believe is an important part of my journey. I embraced many philosophies in my lifetime, but when times turned bad, these ideas turned out to be lacking real substance. I realized that I literally 'had my head in the clouds'. My security was built upon approval seeking. My life was based on things that seemed solid, but when the wind began to blow it all evaporated... I was stranded with no sure foundation on which to build my life. People change, trends pass, theories evolve, time slips away and often we find ourselves feeling as if we're stranded mid-air with nothing to hold on to.

I guess the opposite of a cloud would be a rock. Clouds drift and change shapes, but a rock is a solid mass that endures through the passages of time. God has captured my attention, but He is not a fleeting presence. His love is an unchanging force in my life. He is my Rock and my fortress- a shelter in the time of storm...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Dancing with God...

When I meditated on the word 'Guidance', I kept seeing "dance" at the end of the word.

I remember reading that doing God's will is a lot like dancing. When two people try to lead, nothing feels right. The movement doesn't flow with the music, and everything is quite uncomfortable and jerky.

When one person realizes that, and lets the other lead, both bodies begin to flow with the music. One gives gentle cues, perhaps with a nudge to the back or by pressing lightly in one direction or another.

It's as if two become one body, moving beautifully. The dance requires surrender, willingness, and attentiveness from one person and gentle guidance and skill from the other.

My eyes drew back to the word Guidance. When I saw "G: I thought of God, followed by "u" and "i". “ God”, u" and "i" dance." God, you, and I dance. As I lowered my head, I became willing to trust that I would get guidance about my life. Once again, I became willing to let God lead.

My prayer today is that God's blessings and mercies be upon you on this and everyday. May you abide in God as God abides in you. I want to dance together with God, trusting Him to lead and guide through each season of my life.

The Beauty of A New Covenant...

I don't normally do this, bear with me. Gaining this knowledge was a real turning point in my journey as a believer. A great burden has been lifted from my shoulders and I am finding rest for my soul. Being saved is not about ME and how well I keep my promises, but about God and how well He always keeps His. For those who are interested in such things, below is a short study of scripture on Old -vs- New Covenant Christianity. Feedback is always welcome:

1.) Jeremiah 31:31, 32- The Lord says a day is coming for a new covenant. What is a covenant and what is the old covenant?
Covenant definition:
1. A binding agreement made by two or more persons or parties; a compact; contract. A solemn agreement or vow made by believers to defend and support its faith and doctrine. God’s promises to man, as recorded in the Old and New Testaments.
3.) Genesis 9:8-17- Biblical covenants. What was God’s part? To do what He promised.
Genesis 15:1-6- What was Abram’s part in the covenant? To believe and it was counted as righteousness!
4.) Exodus 19:1-4- Moses is the mediator of the “old” covenant. The parties of which were the Lord and Israel.
5.) Exodus 19:5, 6- The Lord promised, “IF you will obey, you shall be a special treasure to Me above all the people, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation."
6.) Exodus 19:7, 8- Israel promised, “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do.” The agreement is about how to relate to the Law that God spoke. This covenant is not “the Law” itself.
7.) Exodus 24:4-8- The old covenant was ratified with the blood of animals.
8.) Hebrews 9:6-10- The ministration of this covenant was in a continual offering of animal sacrifices.
9.) Romans 3:20- There has never been a covenant of “works” given to save anyone, Galatians 2:16, 21 “no flesh” means EVERY person Old or New Testament.
10.) Galatians 3:15-18- The “old” covenant at Sinai did not make void the covenant that God made with Abraham and his descendents 430 years earlier, which was a covenant of promise or faith, not of works. Abraham's part in the Covenant was to "believe" God. See also Genesis 15:13, 14 and Exodus 2:24.
11.) Galatians 3:19-25- What is purpose of the Old covenant? To bring Israel to Christ. To show that it is impossible for anyone to be saved by works, because we are weak. If we could perfectly obey- a Savior would not be neccessary.

12.) Hebrews 8:6- Christ is the Mediator of a better covenant and better promises.
13.) Hebrews 8:7-9- Why did the old covenant fail? The Law? NO, the people! They made faulty promises--“we will DO what You command.” Of course, we know that they didn't & couldn't keep the covenant through sheer will power.
14.) Hebrews 8:10-13- Parties are again the Lord and Israel. The agreement is again about the law, 10 Commandments, not written on stone, but the heart and mind through the power of love! Commandments are now summarized by Christ as 'Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself'. This is known as having the 'Spirit' of the law.
15.) Galatians 3:26-29- There is literal Israel & spiritual Israel. Old Covenant is with literal Israel, Romans 2:28, 29. New covenant is with spiritual Israel.
16.) Ezekiel 36:22-32- Jesus makes the promises, not Israel--HE WILL DO IT! See also Phil. 2:12, 13; 1 Thes. 5:23, 24.
17.) Hebrews 9:12-15- New Covenant ratified by the blood of Christ, not animals. Ministration is Christ’s sacrifice, ONCE for ALL, applied in the heavenly Sanctuary.
18.) Hebrews 13:20, 21- The New Covenant is the EVERLASTING COVENANT. Jesus’ blood ratified this everlasting covenant--has to be the new covenant!
19.) Revelation 13:8- Jesus is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. This covenant was promised then, Genesis 3:15, but ratified at Calvary, which is why it is called the “New” Covenant since it was ratified after the “Old” Covenant.
20.) Galatians 4:21-31- A very clear picture of the two covenants! The old is of works, or the flesh, and the new is of faith. The old leads to earthly Jerusalem and the new leads to heavenly or the New Jerusalem.
21.) Hebrews 8, 9 & 10- for more information

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Is Jesus Safe?

This blog is about my journey- as the title implies. Herein, I write about lessons I've learned, my experiences, mistakes I've made, ideas I have, questions I wrestle with and my dreams. I am a spiritual person, so it should be no surprise that God and religion are often the topics here. So I ask, "Is Jesus ever safe to talk about?".

The answer is a resounding "NO". Jesus is a highly controversial character:

1) He isn't safe for the unbeliever because after hearing about His love and the way He reached out to ALL people, they may find themselves feeling inclined to be like Him.
2) Jesus is not safe for many believers, because He is so radically different than many of the teachings we are raised with. If we study His life with an open heart, He will shake even the most devoted & sincere person to the very core of what they believe.
3) Due to the reputation many churches have given Christianity, in today's world, mention the name 'Jesus' and immediately you are written off as a fake, a goody-goody or someone who is going to judge.
4) In some countries you will be killed for believing in or speaking about Christ.

Jesus wasn't safe back in His time and He isn't safe today. He taught love and mercy, while others were teaching regimens. He showed the love of God while others were presenting God as vengeful and exacting. He taught simple lessons in a complicated religious culture. He emptied the temple of those who were there- not to worship God in humility, but who made an appearance to further their own agendas and line their own pockets. To quote CS Lewis, "Jesus Christ (Aslan) is not safe, but He is good". Stranger still, He is a dividing force that unifies.

I'm excited to find a growing number of individuals are coming together in the name of Jesus Christ. They don't see eye to eye on every theological or political idea, but it doesn't matter because they have been humbled and don't have to have everything their own way. They are not afraid to examine themselves in the light of Grace, to confess their weaknesses to one another and be real. These people would give you the shirt off their backs and you feel comfortable around them because they won't judge you for being a sinner. (They understand we're all sinners- no matter how much we know or how hard we try.) Mingle with this community and you will not find perfection, but you will find a passion for loving others and a place where you can be yourself. People are hungry for love, for tangible hope in a world of bombs and tsunami's.

This blog is about love, not hatred. Hope in the midst of desparaging circumstances. It's about freedom, not censorship and listening for the Voice of God above the voices of people. It's about living life to the fullest under the welcoming smile of God. Sometimes my views may step on toes. It is not my purpose to stir up angry debates or to condemn anyone here.

Sneak Preview...

I wrote the songs for a contemporary mini-musical and developed them with my friend Brian Sitler. The play is entitled 'Eyewitness'. It addresses the issue of discontent we feel in this life. Basically we all have an empty place in our hearts that nothing else but God seems to fill. The production will be performed the end of this month. Here's a sneak preview of the music. (Yep- that's me singing.) These are two of the rough studio recordings. We were planning on making a final soundtrack to sell after the play, but that idea ended up getting canned as we were running out of time, so these are some of the demo tracks we made for the actors so they could learn the songs. When you click on the links below, it will take a moment or two to download the mp3. If you have a moment, take a listen and give me some feedback:

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Chasing Symptoms...

Watch TV for any length of time and you will see a whole bunch of commercials for meds. It gets ridiculous! Let's see, there's a pill for heartburn, impotence, gas, constipation, depression, belly-fat, headaches, arthritis, diahrea, sleeplessness, etc. Now some of us have legitimate problems and I'm glad there are ways to get temporary relief. However, as I watched I realized that we humans tend to focus on treating symptoms. As a health professional, I know that a lot of the problems we experience are due to high-stress, poor diets and low-activity lifestyles. For example, have sleep problems? 20-30 minutes of exercise a day can help. Overweight? Find an enjoyable activity and burn some calories. Constipated? Not trying to be gross here, but studys show that regular exercise helps things get moving again. Now exercise is NOT a cure-all, but it really can help alleviate many symptoms- virtually anyone can get their heart pumping. So, instead of constantly chasing symptoms with a pill, why not work to cure the problem??

I find it to be the same in the spiritual life. We see symptoms. (Anybody with half a brain can recognize them and fingerpoint.) Christ had the ability to see beyond the symptomatic behavior to the root cause. The origin of most undesirable behaviors is a feeling of rejection, guilt, failure, negative voices in our heads, etc. To soothe or escape feelings of worthlessness and emptiness, we turn to habits or substances that we find comforting. Some turn to food, others turn to sex or drugs, etc. Jesus knew that when people come to realize how much they are loved- a lot of these things will fall away. So, He set out to accept people where they were and help them find meaning.

Here's a quiz- see how you do:

1) You've just learned that a young adult in your church smokes pot & drinks, you:
A) avoid them at all costs- wouldn't want to be around a BAD influence after all. Besides, it's your duty to spread the word so nobody else in the church will come in contact with that person and automatically start drinking too...
B) give him/her a phone call just out of the blue to offer wise counsel and some Bible texts you think might help.
C) smile whenever you see this person. Look for opportunities to befriend them and be available to listen if given the chance.
D) tisk, tisk with everyone else, but secretly feel glad to know you aren't the only one who enjoys weed now & then.

2) A man in your church, you've recently befriended confesses that he's having an affair, you:
A) call his wife immediately to inform her of her husband's indescretion. Hold emergency prayer meeting where all the dirty details are discussed and pray really hard for him.
B) listen to him. Ask some thought-provoking questions. Offer to pray with/for him. Then recommend someone he can talk to for help sorting it all out.
C) hold a Board meeting and vote to have him kicked out of the church ASAP.
D) tell him he's a total womanizer- that he's brought shame upon his family & the church and he'll never live it down.

3) A Teenager in the Youth Group is Pregnant, You:
A) tell her she has ruined her life and is now obligated to marry the father and "make things right".
B) corner her, tell her how shocked you are at her naughty behavior. Tell her she should be ashamed because she was raised better than that, then turn on your heel and walk away. Make her feel reeeeally bad so she'll never do THAT again!
C) smile when you see her, offer a hug. Ask how she's doing. Let her know that if she's ever feeling scared and wants to talk or if she needs anything, you will be happy to help. Tell her that God loves her and the baby she's carrying.
D) have heated words with her parents, pull your kids out of youth group and don't ever let your kids hang out with her again.

These were real scenarios & real reactions I have seen. How would you choose?? Before any of us say, "I'd do what Jesus would do" maybe it's a good idea to read up on Him so we REALLY have a clue how He would respond. He didn't go around chasing symptoms. Don't think Jesus would see a pot-head, a jerk and a whore in these stories. He would look beyond the symptom to the real source of the problem. Fact: People often do drugs to escape a reality that is too painful to bear- find out what's going on. Sometimes men have affairs during mid-life crisis or when they feel empty inside. Maybe this man is not appreciated or treated well at home? Many teenagers get pregnant because they are desperate for attention- girls with no father around are especially vulnerable. NOT making excuses for poor behavior here, but maybe we should think a little more before pouncing? Many Church-goers live sheltered lives and are NOT QUALIFIED to be going around giving advice to people who have been used/abused out in the world. Sister Christian doesn't know what to say, because she's never been there!
For example: Life-long, upper-middle-class Christians have NO CLUE what life in the ghetto is like, and are probably not really qualified to help someone get out of a gang or get off drugs, but they can still be a friend.

People make mistakes. God knows I make my share! I've been pounced on- yes- but I've also jumped on a few people... I remember back in my ultra-strict days lecturing a man for spending money on a TV. I tried very hard to convince several ladies they were out of line for wearing pants and eating eggs & cheese too. Oh yes, that was me- I had my act together and I was out to set everybody else straight. Looking back, I see that most of my self-destructive behaviors (eating disorder, legalism, etc.) were simply because I didn't feel loved, secure or valued. Now that I feel more connected with God, I don't have as many deep-seated control issues- I'm not starving/binging/purging anymore and I don't feel the need to go around correcting others. I am finding The Cure.... or should I say The Cure is finding me?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Don't Be Surprised!

I believe if Jesus Christ walked the earth today- He would be labeled a 'Liberal' by most religious people. Those who prided themselves in a "knowledge of truth" failed to recognize Him or respect His followers in the past- is it any different now?
Religionists today want everything spelled out for them in strict shades of Black/White- while many people out there are happy to fill that role and be the conscience for others. These leaders are bold, opinionated and take big stands on issues- claiming to be the "voice of truth". (Enjoying the spotlight, promoting their own religio-political views and lining their own pockets are often just desireable side-effects of this strategy.) Time is spent addressing a myriad of social issues and exerting influence over fearful & weaker minds. The message is spread that unless you see things exactly as they do, God cannot love or accept you and you will be eternally condemned. (Sadly, these leaders don't realize how spiritually bankrupt they are...)

Christ did not waste precious time denouncing or defining sin, but re-educating the self-righteousness. He said whores and tax-collecters would enter the kingdom ahead of scribes & priests. Why?? Because sinners can repent and be saved, but those who feel they have it all together don't see a need for a Savior. A proud heart says, "Thanks anyway, but I don't need any help, I know what I need to do and I can handle it myself. If I just try harder I can be what I am supposed to be in order to please God". The mindset of the world is to have everything arranged to suit individual preferences or to submit oneself to dogmatic theology in a twisted sort of martyrdom. If we are miserable here because of a strict, sacrificial lifestyle, then we most certainly deserve Heaven- right?? (wrong)
But starving masses flocked to Jesus- He explained the Kingdom of Heaven in a way they could understand. Their spirits were fed- they couldn't get enough of His words about a merciful and gracious God. The Water of Life is so contrary to dry, intolerant theology. In a society that viewed poverty and physical suffering as direct punishments from God in response to sin, Jesus reached out to embrace, heal and resurrect, saying, "I have come to preach the Gospel to the poor and freedom to the captives". Captives of what? Well, sin & suffering of course, but could He also have meant freedom for those trapped in religious dogma and a regimen of self-imposed works??

The Christ spent time mingling with all kinds of people, painting simple word pictures, praising righteousness and explaining what TRUE Godliness is about. He said we should: feed the poor, clothe the naked, reach out to widows & orphans, forgive our enemies and feed His sheep with the Gospel. Jesus lived in such a way that we could know what a servant heart looks like. His teachings were radically simple. Here are some more complex areas He did not go:

1) He did not say what kind of music or instruments should be used in worship services
2) He did not define what constitutes modest dressing or appropriate attire for church
3) He did not outline a diet for the righteous to follow- in fact if He fed Fish or Lamb to His followers today, he would be viewed as an evil 'flesh eater' by those who adhere to strict dietary practices
4) He did not focus on the areas of sexuality, drinking or dating
5) He did not banner-wave for Judaism as being the truest religion or hold a bunch of prophecy seminars. We have NO record of Him baptizing anyone. He converted thousands without handing out a single pamphlet. He issued no report in self-published, self-promoting magazines on how many converts He won over to His point of view.
6) He did not run for political office or use His powers to build a platform.
7) He did not uphold the strict teachings of the Pharisees & Saducees, or speak words that would make them feel good about the regimen they upheld.
8) He did not say how we should vote, or what denomination would have the highest degree of truth
9) He did not emphasize keeping the Sabbath- in fact He offended many by the things He did on that day saying, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" He also said, "I am Lord of the Sabbath".
10) He did not praise one race or region over another.
11) He did not proof-text every concept. He did not write a best-seller or have His own TV show.
12) He did not go around bashing Pagans or the Roman government
13) He did not hold public debates in order to show off His great intellect
14) He never said which version of the Bible is the truest

Jesus was rejected & murdered by the church of His time. Guess we shouldn't be surprised if by following His example, we also become outcasts.

To sum up the focus of my Most Beloved Teacher, the way of Christ is: love, humility, tolerance, servanthood and forgiveness. This does not sit well with power-hungry, self-assured people who want high position, recognition and money. The straight testimony of Jesus Christ is contrary to the way our natural minds work- we WANT complicated. To have a simple theology is insulting to many who think they are "above & beyond" such things.
At Jesus baptism, a Voice from Heaven was heard saying, "This is My Beloved Son in Whom I Am well pleased. Listen to His words." What were His words? What was the main jist of His message?? Jesus said, "Love the Lord thy God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself." We learn how to love by connecting with God and modeling the life of Christ. It doesn't get any simpler than that. I wonder if Jesus would be accused today of "watering down the message"?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Great Weekend! :o)

Attended a health conference to increase my knowledge of the body, how it functions and how to properly care for it. Passed my qualifying exam with an 'A'. I have a degree in Health/Fitness, but it was a good refresher course. I'm one who believes in keeping current with new information, so very much enjoyed it!

While at the conference, my children and two friends whom they refer to as 'cousins' sang for church- all 3 services. Leading out for Praise and doing special music. Sorry I missed it- I'm usually directing them, but can't be in two places at once. I hear it went really well so that's good.

I've really bonded with my oldest daughter as we paint together. I'm currently working on an abstract piece. I taught her the basics about painting and she took off with it! Her first try is of 3 horses. Have a feeling she's going to be an artist. Her talent is amazing! Horses are difficult to do- she gets them to look SO real. The fact that I taught her how to draw & paint is special. I bond with my son & two youngest daughters in different ways. Jed & I enjoyed watching 'The Crocodile Hunter' together- I'm currently helping him compose a sympathy letter to Terry Irwin & family. Beth, my 3rd child shares my love for fitness and nature. She's an active child- often seen wandering in the yard looking for critters to study. Her school-teacher adores her! My youngest is my snuggle-bunny. She simply needs me to listen. She's got the gift of gab, loves to tell stories and relate her feelings. She also expresses herself by dancing. In the evenings- when I don't have to work, she brings her fav. pink blanket and we snuggle. It is during these times that I feel like a Queen. God, you have kept Your promise to me when You said so many years ago that you would fill my cup to overflowing. I have 4 amazing children and will always be grateful!!

A good friend of ours was kind enough to watch our kids for us all afternoon AND overnight on Sat. My husband (who I haven't seen for a month) took me out. We ate at O'Charleys- had Cedar Plank Salmon with salad & Key-lime pie. We were able to re-connect. Something is changing in my man. Don't know what, but I like it. We've been together half my life now. It's been a lot of ups & downs- lots of hard knocks for us, but we're still together. That's a God thing! After supper, we got a few things at Walmart, then cruised around chatting/listening to love-songs and enjoyed the moonlight. I SO needed this- so did he- even if he may not say so. Probably won't have a chance to go out again for awhile- hopefully this weekend will carry me for a while. We hope to take a nice family vacation soon- even if it's just camping out for a weekend.
Friday, Jay got dropped from the Construction Crew- his boss is moving to Oregon. However, he was called in to interview with the paper and after only 2 months of doing a paper route, he was hired on the spot as District Manager! Way to GO, baby!! I hope this will be a confidence booster/faith builder. Sometimes he feels that he prays and isn't heard. We were both pleading with God for the last 2 wks to bring us something better work-wise as we simply cannot have a family and not see each other. By Friday, we had a definite answer! Now he has better pay & basic coverage benefits- which is better than NO benefits at all.

Today, our Poodle Breeder sent me updated photos of my little puppy. Ember has really grown the last 2 weeks!! She is fat & sassy- her coat is getting thick and wavy. The red really does seem to match my hair- I am thrilled. Can't wait to bring my little baby girl home with me!!!

I lost 3 more lbs for a total of 23 since January. (Mostly due to the hectic pace at which we have lived recently.) Teaching Pilates is really making me stronger! This week I start teaching Interval Cardio class again. My foot is doing better, but will have to be careful not to overdo...

How was YOUR weekend?? Hope you have a great week!! :o)

Friday, September 08, 2006

A Deer in the Mist...

One morning recently, I headed down to the barn unusually early to do my chores. The day was just beginning to dawn. Our barn sits a considerable distance from the house. When I'm not with my children, I usually enjoy peaceful moments, so I don't make much noise. As I got to the base of the slope, I heard a rustling sound and looking to my right, in the morning mist I saw a small herd of deer stirring in the fenced area that is supposed to be our goat pasture. My heart jumped into my throat! I adore these gentle, graceful creatures and to be so close to them was a sacred moment for me.

Suddenly one of them noticed me standing there and quick as a flash he bolted, about seven of them bounded across the pasture and over the fence. But to my surprise, one doe stayed behind. She stood transfixed, watching me with unblinking eyes. I was absolutely still- only my eyes were blinking and we admired one another from a distance. I was delighted to see she was curious and timidly made her way toward me. Tiny hooves would take one small step at a time, then stand and observe me, then a step more. She was very watchful as she made her way to the edge of the mist. It was a magical moment and I hoped the beating of my heart wouldn't scare her away. She was so beautiful- those soft brown eyes and elegant form. I felt such love for this creature! How I wished I could win her trust, touch and take care of her. I wanted her to stay with me always. She came closer and was about 16 ft. away from me now. I could hear the sound of her breathing. Everything in me wished she would come nearer, my soul was drawn to her. I cannot describe to you the amazing bond, the awesome energy that was in the air. This doe was a brave and independant thinker. The rest of the herd stood somewhere far away in the mist, but she remained alone to seek me out and draw closer to me. We regarded one another for what felt like 10 minutes. I began speaking to her in soft, low tones. She pricked her ears to listen, tilted her head and sniffed the air. "Easy there..... you are soooo beautiful. You can trust me, I wouldn't hurt you for all the world, come to me...." She continued to stare at me with shining eyes. If only I could touch her, she would understand that I am safe. I don't know how long we stood there mesmerized- each of us wanting to connect with the other.... As the mist began to lift, ever so slowly, I began to reach out my right hand. Her head pulled back a bit, but she didn't move away. Soon, my arm was fully extended and she began to raise one of her front legs- as if to move toward me.....

At that very moment, the herd began to rustle in the leaves, stomping and snorting. They were anxious and impatient. She jerked her head, fearful instincts suddenly kicked in and she slowing began backing away... "Don't go, I won't hurt you" I said almost whispering, but it was too late. In an instant, she turn and bounded away from me toward the herd. I felt the adrenaline rush of a close-encounter, but the sadness I felt as she fled my presence was tremendous. Through the misty morning, I could just barely make out the sight of her re-joining the herd that was now running deep into the forest. I stood there several long moments, trying to savor the encounter, but the encounter was over, the feeling was fading...

It was then that God spoke to my heart, "My child, you are like this deer. In My eyes, you are so beautiful. Words cannot express the love I feel for you. I want you to know Me, to feel my love. My hand is extended to you. All your life I have been whispering to your heart. Won't you lay aside your fears and come to me. Others have broken your heart, but I will not hurt you. Why do you continue to run with the herd? Why do you listen to their voices instead of Mine?" It hit me like a ton of bricks! It is very sobering when you hear the Voice of God in the morning mist. I dropped to my knees in the dew-covered grass. "I am Yours, Father. Have mercy on me, I feel as if I am undone, take my heart. Do with me as You will. Teach me what I need to know in order not to fear You anymore. Heal this heart of mine, because nothing on this earth takes away the pain. I want to trust again... don't give up on me..."

It never ceases to amaze me how God orchestrates circumstances, using simple things to teach such intense spiritual lessons.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

You Might Be A Legalist If...

Answer Yes or No to the following questions:

1) God's love for me depends on how well I behave and what I do. I always feel like I have something to prove to God.
2) Meeting the expectations of others, especially those in my congregation or in positions of spiritual authority, is vital.
3) Moral/ethical questions are usually black or white- only hand-wringing, bleeding-heart types see gray areas.
4) I try hard to obey God. It irritates me that others think they can get away with avoiding the same level of dedication and sacrifice.
5) I fall short because I don't have enough faith, I haven't prayed enough, or because I just need to be a better person and "get it right".
6) God is angry with me because I'm a sinner. My main goal in life is to try to regain God's favor by doing things that will impress Him.

7) My sense of spiritual security/well-being is linked to a certain Christian leader or membership in my church rather than a personal relationship with God.
8) I tell my children not to do things in church or around other Christian families that I allow in my home.
9) I believe my church has all the answers as God's only true church- that other Christians may be sincere, but are sincerely wrong.
10) The exterior choices a person makes in what they wear, hairstyle, piercings, tattoos, etc. is a clear measure of that person's character.
11) I sometimes worry that people might take advantage of Grace if it's preached too much— people might think they can do anything they want if they see God as loving and merciful.
12) After being around other churchgoers for extended periods of time I feel drained— weary of putting up a false front.
13) When I miss a service or activity of my church I feel like a bad person. If I say "no" to any task for church I feel guilty.
14) I'm likely to get to Heaven, though I'm far from perfect, because I try to be a good person and God takes that into account.

15) My church does not encourage people to ask questions or examine other points of view. Those who do are very likely to be ostracized.
16) I believe in doing my best and God will do the rest. I give my effort and God will meet me half way for my salvation.
17) I view the problems in my life as Divine punishment for my mistakes or because God is displeased with me..
18) My church encourages me to hang out only with people who believe exactly like I do and puts down other belief systems.
19) I constantly wonder where I stand with God. I never feel good enough. Sometimes I even lose sleep over it.
20) Because of all I know about the Bible, I feel obligated and justified in pointing out the errors in other people's lives.

How did you do??

(If you answered "Yes" to 3 or more of these questions, you may need to re-examine what you believe- in light of the Gospel.)

What Happened to Art & Recess??

I write music and poetry. I also enjoy painting and the performing arts. The Arts have always been part of my life. During highschool, I was involved in Fine Arts Guild. Art stimulates the imagination and helps us get in touch with our more sensitive, creative side. In a world full of fences, limitations and political correctness, Art is still a form of free expression. Artistry teaches patience and the importance of process and technique. Life is more colorful and tolerance is learned when art is incorporated into curriculum. When I was in grade school, we had Art Class twice a week. Everybody did their art a little differently, but we were all told our art was acceptable. Often a pretty young teacher would wheel her cart into our classroom and we would listen to Classical or Smooth Jazz music and draw, paint and color to our heart's content. In the upper grades, sometimes we did ceramics or sculpting with moldable putty. We had music classes too. I learned a lot about the history and structure of music and the great composers of old.

I was an active kids with lots of energy. Like many, recess was my favorite subject! It was a chance to break away for 10-15 minutes, be playful and get rid of my stress. Recess was a once vital part of every school day. Every school I attended, we had at least 2 recesses up until I was in the 8th grade when we only had 1- that was a BIG adjustment for me. In the Academy, we didn't have any recess, but still had P.E., Organized Sports, Intramurals and Recreation time. I love the little school my children attend- excellent staff! However, as a former P.E. teacher, you can imagine my disappointment to learn that my little grade-schoolers only get 1 short recess a day. Here are some statistics:

1) Childhood obesity is off the charts in the US!
2) A ton of kids are on meds for ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) & ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyper-activity Disorder). Some kids legitimately need the meds, but I think many are misdiagnosed- without recess, I probably would have been on meds!
3) Adolescent depression is rising at an alarming rate. Suicide among teens is high.
4) Kids say they feel they have no sense of purpose, no soul, no value and no clear vision for the future.
5) Violent episodes in schools have increased drastically in recent years
6) Unlike my generation that rode bikes, climbed trees and played outside after school, today's children largely sit around at home after school snacking, playing video games & watching TV.

Could all of these stats possibly be related to the fact that Art & Recess are a thing of the past in most schools?! Give kids at least 2 recesses a day to get all their pent-up energy out and let them be kids- you may have FAR less problems with ADD & ADHD. Exercise raises Endorphin levels (happy hormones) and helps keep kids fit- which would help them feel happier and raise their self-esteems. (Of course removing the snack machines that kids have free access to in many schools may help reduce the obesity problem too, but that's another post...)
Art is a class that helps kids connect with their souls. Take an angry, neglected kid and give him a paintbrush & canvas. He will probably make some dark, angry art, but because he is able to express his feelings he'll be less likely to hit somebody. (Of course removing the snack machines that kids have free access to in many schools may help reduce the obesity problem too, but that's another post...)

Music Appreciation is something every kid deserves. Music is one of life's great pleasures! Whenever there are budget cuts, the first classes to go are the ones that are often most needed for well-rounded development. P.E., Music and Art. Learning only Reading, Writing, a bunch of History facts and 'Rithmatic reduces our kids into factual robots and largely uses one side of their brains. They need more physical activity and the Arts in order to have a balanced mind & body.

Somewhere in the gap between me being a student and becoming a parent, Art, P.E., Music and recess have been tossed by the wayside as unnecessary elements of a child's education and I beg to differ!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Forgiveness Plant...

I believe in living life to the fullest. I believe in loving and accepting people- even if they think differently. I believe in humility and in learning simple lessons...

In the midst of our troubles at my husbands former place of employment, the Boss's wife sent a plant home for me- kind of a token gesture after denying me the opportunity of helping with a Shar-a-thon. (After the way she had regarded my husband and me I did not want her blasted plant!) I put it on the back of my piano and refused to water it. The beautiful foliage shriveled. Weeks went by, each time I walked by and saw the plant turning brown I felt a small sense of triumph. Then one day, as I walked by, I looked at the now dead plant and the Spirit of God said to my heart, "Okay, you've had your revenge, now WATER IT!" "What?? I asked. "It's already dead, I may as well go dump it out in the yard." I sad aloud. But again I had the strong impression, "Water it, right now". So I picked up that crispy plant and carried it gently into my kitchen counter. I began pulling away the dead foliage. "This is silly, there's nothing left of it", I said to myself. He responded, "Just trust Me and do as I say". I continued to pull away the dead parts until all that was left was a dead base. However, I was amazed to find that above the deadness of the root area, there was one small green piece left. I cut it off, stuck it in a little water and left it on my window sill. Weeks went by, I forgot all about it. Then I remembered and went to check- it had grown some roots, so I re-planted it. As I placed that tender green shoot in the potting soil, some of my anger dissolved. Again the whisper in my heart spoke to me saying, "This is your forgiveness plant. Right now, you have chosen to forgive, but there isn't much forgiveness in your heart. You feel like your life has been destroyed like this plant. Keep watering this little shoot and as the plant grows again, so will your forgiveness. I WILL bring healing to your life".

I cried.

I have been caring for the plant and it's growing. It has 6 shiny leaves now and more are coming. In the midst of so many trials, there is still hope- even for a sinner like me...

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Crocodile Hunter...

Zoologist, Steve Irwin, 44, cared about animals and did his best to relieve their suffering. He entertained us with his passionate and humorous television documentaries on species that most people detest. His subjects included Crocodiles, Cobra's, Komodo Dragons, Sharks, Spiders, etc. He specialized in getting an up-close and personal view of these and many other misunderstood creatures. The only thing that measured up to his larger-than-life persona and passion for animals was his love for Terry, his beautiful and equally adventurous wife. They fell in love at first sight, were married 6 months later and had 2 children together. Bindi Sue, 8 and Bob Irwin, 3.

Steve died instantly doing what he loved just off the Great Barrier Reef when a big Stingray smacked him with a barbed tail which pierced his heart. According to the report I read, Stingray barbs are serrated and filled with toxins. This particular barb was around 10 inches long. Steve was pulled out of the water by camera crew and CPR was performed, but he was pronounced dead when medical crews arrived to assist. His wife, Terry apparently was not with him when he died.

I know it probably seems silly, but I'm sitting here bawling. I was a faithful viewer of his shows. My son, was a HUGE fan and went around the house imitating Steve's catch phrases, "Crikey", "Isn't SHE a BEAUTY!" and "Look at THIS!". I wrote letters to he & Terry thanking them for the work they do for those who have no voice. I had hoped someday to see or even meet Steve & Terry in person and wanted to visit the famous 'Australia Zoo'. I have tried in vain to visit the Croc. Hunter website: but it's down- probably overloaded with grieving fans. I'm sure Terry and all the staff at Australia Zoo & Animal Planet are in shock. This is quite devastating!

My fondest memory of Steve was the show where they tried to rescue an orphaned baby elephant and she was dying. Steve spoke about the importance of better conservation efforts from the depth of his heart, while trying to refrain from sobbing on camera.

Steve, thank you for the joy you brought into my life! You were a giant of a man and very loved. We will miss you!!!!

Saturday, September 02, 2006


We haven't been going to church as regularly as we once did. Main reason, my husband's former boss (dictator) and his wife (Mrs. Dictator) attend our home church and at this point, we have not yet reached the point where we feel comfortable being around them. We were used up and thrown away like dying batteries. Though we don't hate anyone, we still feel the sting pretty strongly. I'm afraid my little Irish temper would get the best of me and I'd tell them exactly what I think about what they've done to us and to the rest of the staff we loved so dearly.

We're still in the healing process and it's easier staying home and relaxing than going to church. Honestly, sometimes I have better church here in the quiet of my home or sitting in a saddle than I do sitting in a pew. Today I laid it all out before the Lord. I wept and pleaded for God to make things clear to us and to somehow drop a better job in my husband's lap so we don't have to keep killin' ourselves to make ends meet. It sometimes takes a lot for me to cry, but I let it out today- I cried for us, for Ian's parents, for my Grandfather, for the relationship I want to have with my man. My vision is blurry as I type because I cried so hard. (Ignore my typos if you find some.)

Today, an older couple from a church we used to attend stopped by unannounced. (Don't ya love that!? Good thing the house looked great.) Wasn't sure at first if it was a genuine visit, or the "get the scoop on the situation so we can give a full report at prayer-meeting" type deal. Anyway, I opened the door and invited them in. They asked, "How are you doing?" to which I automatically replied, "We're doing okay". Then I caught myself and said, "If you really want to know- we're not doing so good." Well, they obviously didn't really want to know, because they didn't ask why or what was going on, just started up some small talk. I kind of alluded to a few things, but the pat answer was, "Well, you just need to trust that it's all in God's hands and that He has a purpose for you." The rest of the visit was basically talk about the weather. I told a few anecdotes. They handed us some money- which was a nice gesture- prayed with us and left a bag of tomatoes from their garden. Okay, that was really nice and I appreciate it. What we REALLY need is someone who will LISTEN! Someone who will get down in the trenches with us and help us face the hard reality of our situation, not sugar-coat things with nice little sayings. These are nice people and I know they meant well. I truly appreciate the fact that they even thought of us.

Note to self: when trying to comfort someone, don't start by correcting them or offering pat answers- that's an insult to their intelligence. Start first by really listening. Try to understand. Whether you trust in God or not, life can get ugly! For some reason, this blog is the only place where I'm allowed to hurt and say how I really feel about things. That's sad. The happy go-lucky me that everyone sees at work, etc., is the same melancholy artist who feels like her heart is in a vice. But few would ever know that. I feel a lot of pressure to perform most of the time and for all my talk about being "real", when I'm hurting I still wear a mask a lot of the time... yeah- I know, I'm pretty pathetic! What I need is a good week of trail-riding in the mountains!

I'm still wondering "HOW IN THE WORLD DO YOU HEAL? HOW DO YOU PICK UP AND CONTINUE WITH A BIG SMILE ON YOUR FACE WHEN YOU'VE BEEN BETRAYED BY CHURCH LEADERSHIP AND AREN'T ALLOWED TO TALK ABOUT IT? HOW DO YOU EVER TRUST AGAIN?? HOW DO YOU FEEL LIKE GOD HAS A PURPOSE FOR YOU WHEN THE CHURCH HAS CHEWED YOU UP AND SPIT YOU OUT?" I'm not sure anyone can answer. So, we just go to work, crash into bed and try to move on, but we feel obsolete. Yes, take it to God in prayer- but sometimes you need a warm hug and someone to cry with.