Saturday, December 31, 2005

The New Year

This is about New Year resolutions; what else would you expect on the first of January? It’s time to sweep all of last year’s stuff out the door and make some plans for 2006. It’s time to reassess and renew. It’s time to reconsider and draw up some goals. It’s time to lose some things, such as pounds.

As 1899 drew to a close, Thomas Hardy described the old century as being like a cold corpse in a coffin in the dead of winter; the new one was like a pitiful ancient, scrawny bird whose cry was plaintive and weak. Hardy, ever the pessimist, was a British poet who wrote in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries. He called himself a “meliorist,” which is defined as one who believes things can be made better through human effort. I’ve always thought that term was a bit too bright and cheery for him; his poetry is full of bitterness, harsh irony, and black humor.

It’s time……….the end of a year, the beginning of a new one. Unless we are pessimistic like Hardy, we humans are excited by the idea that when a new year begins, it could be the beginning of a brand new era. We can start over. (Of course, we really could start over at any point during the year, say, June 23 or September 5 or a Thursday afternoon. But we are tied to the first of January.)

Possibility glitters like gold and draws us with its intrigue.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Sin of Murder, continued

(Yesterday, I wrote about the execution of Tookie Williams for the murder of four people. Is one sin--the sin of murder, for example--worse than other kinds of sin? The Bible says all kinds of sin are detested by God.)

God gave his son Jesus to the world as a sacrifice for our sin, to rescue us from our evil nature and to restore us to himself. During his life on earth, Jesus showed people how to live and how to love and serve God. Then he took upon himself the punishment we all deserve.

A young woman I know thinks she is so bad and horrid that God wouldn’t ever forgive her. She says, “I’m trying to get myself to the point where I feel like I can ask for forgiveness. I’m working on myself so I’d deserve it. He won’t even listen to me, the way I am now.”

I have news for her. She can’t possibly deserve it, no matter how long and hard she works at it. She can’t earn it—impossible. But she doesn’t have to.

Because of Jesus, we can have mercy and forgiveness from God. It is free. All we have to do is come to him with open hearts, sincerely asking for forgiveness, and he cleans us up and changes us. He freely gives us joy, peace, and tender love—and a new way of life. He hates sin. But he loves us and wants us to love him so much that he did a drastic thing through Jesus to make it possible. That’s called grace.

Tookie Williams, executed for committing four murders, worked hard at keeping teenagers from joining gangs. Was he guilty? I don’t know. If so, was he forgiven by God? I don’t know whether he ever asked for forgiveness; I think he said he was not guilty. Did he deserve to be forgiven because of all that good work? That’s irrelevant. Nobody has to deserve it.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Sin of Murder

A few weeks ago, Tookie Williams was executed for murdering four people. Many people say he was not guilty. Many others say he was guilty, but that he was rehabilitated—that he had redeemed himself, because he did a great deal of work trying to discourage teenagers from joining gangs.

In the aftermath of the execution, I saw on television a feature about another convicted murderer, a man whose name I don’t remember. He said he became a Christian and has been forgiven. He leads Bible studies in prison and works with Prison Fellowship people, trying to spread Christianity there. He said to the interviewer (not his exact words), “The Bible says that a person who commits the sin of murder is not any worse in God’s eyes than a person who shoplifts.”

What??!! This is a hard concept for us to understand and accept today.

Here it is—Proverbs 6:16-19, in Today’s New International Version (TNIV).

There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him:
haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up dissension in the community.

Here’s what I think it means. I think sin, which means anything that separates us from God, is just sin—all evil—in God’s eyes. God is holy; his nature is goodness and love. He can’t bear to look at sin, whether it is lying, stealing, being too selfish and proud—or murder.

I think it means we humans do not have the right to judge whose act of meanness is the worst, because we are all bad by nature. If we presume to say that what Tookie did (or was accused of, at least) is far worse than anything we ourselves ever did, then we are guilty of pride; and our “haughty eyes” see ourselves as being better than others.

But we have to remember that what we do affects what other people do. For example, if I, as a mother, were completely self-absorbed, angry, and mean-spirited, wouldn’t it be possible that I might raise my children to be the kinds of adults who would commit murder?

To be continued~~

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Stevens Revisited

Yesterday, I wrote about Wallace Stevens, based on "Breakpoint," a daily e-letter I subscribe to by Charles Colson. Colson said that Stevens, an important American poet of the mid-20th century, experienced a shift in his view of the world; he began to see that he had been wrong, all along, in his belief that reality is the product of the imagination. He gained a new understanding of the importance of relationships, and he saw that reality does exist outside the imagination.

Colson quotes from the poem "Not the Ideas about the Thing, but the Thing Itself"; in this poem, Stevens paints a vivid image of his epiphany--his "new knowledge of reality." Stevens often used the concrete to explain the abstract. For example, in this poem, the "scrawny cry" of a bird on a cold, windy March morning breaks upon his consciousness. He suddenly understands that, of course, the cry of this bird is real. And his imagination has nothing to do with producing it; reality exists outside his mind. Eventually, Colson tells us, Stevens accepted the reality of God's love and was baptized into the Catholic church.

Not Ideas about the Thing, but the Thing Itself
by Wallace Stevens (from

At the earliest ending of winter,
In March, a scrawny cry from outside
Seemed like a sound in his mind.

He knew that he heard it,
A bird's cry, at daylight or before,
In the early March wind.

The sun was rising at six,

No longer a battered panache above snow...
It would have been outside.

It was not from the vast ventriloquism

Of sleep's faded papier-mache...
The sun was coming from the outside.

That scrawny cry--It was

A chorister whose c preceded the choir.
It was part of the colossal sun,

Surrounded by its choral rings,

Still far away. It was like
A new knowledge of reality.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Colson on Wallace Stevens

Charles Colson writes a daily e-essay (is that a word?!), which often inspires me. His subjects pertain to the Christian worldview.

Today's essay is about Wallace Stevens, who was both an insurance executive and a popular poet of the American modernist movement. I always include some of his poetry when I teach American literature. Here is the essay by Colson:

'A New Knowledge of Reality'
How One Poet Discovered
the Good Life
December 27, 2005

In a way, you might say Wallace Stevens had the best of both worlds. He was a successful insurance executive -- but best known as one of the greatest American poets of the twentieth century. Yet Stevens found neither of those worlds truly satisfying, as I explain in my new book, THE GOOD LIFE.

As a poet, Wallace Stevens was part of the modernist movement. Modernists attempted to create artistic works that did not imitate real life, but were worlds unto themselves. It was their way of imposing meaning on what they saw as a random, meaningless world. Modernism relied on materialism -- the assumption that the universe is a closed system, and that the things we can perceive through our senses are the only things that exist.

But there was a problem, the major conflict between this philosophy and the work that took up most of Stevens's time. In the poetry he composed while walking to the office, he expressed the view that the only order in life came from the human mind. Human life was a random, unpredictable thing shaped by our perceptions. But upon reaching the office, he helped administer an insurance company that ran on actuarial data that assumed human behavior is highly predictable --
a sure sign of a reality that we all share, not one that we make

It doesn't get much more ironic than that.

Stevens's double life shows just how powerful intellectual fashions can be. The truth can be staring us right in the face, but with our ideological blinders on,we don't even see it.

Stevens, however, gradually did begin to see it. Lonely in an
emotionally distant marriage, isolated from most of his family, he started to recognize the importance of human relationships. As he worked on his relationship with his daughter, and forged new ones with other family members, he found more satisfaction in their shared bonds than he ever had in trying to
create a reality for himself. Stevens came to realize that it was shared humanity, the real world, that truly mattered.

This shift in worldview can be seen in Stevens's poetry. He had grown so dissatisfied with his own views that he went through a seven-year period of writing almost no poetry at all. Then later, he wrote poems that displayed a new awareness of the world around him. They point to a greater imagination than his own at work in the world. One of those poems is titled, "Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing Itself." The narrator hears a bird's cry and realizes that it came, not from his own imagination, but from outside himself. He says the cry "was like/ A new knowledge of reality."

This new awareness finally led Wallace Stevens to the ultimate relationship -- a relationship with God. Shortly before he died,
this man, who had used his considerable gifts to oppose traditional faith, was baptized and received into the Catholic Church.

Wallace Stevens's work is still being held out on campuses today as a supreme example of anti-Christian modernist art. But the real story, largely untold, is that Stevens found his own
worldview to be unlivable -- and that only the Christian worldview could be true.

You can subscribe to Breakpoint at this link.

I'd like to add that I myself do not teach Wallace's poetry as "a supreme example of anti-Christian modernist art." I use it because I love his imagery, which has powerful appeal to the senses. His word-pictures can almost make you smell, see, and feel what he is describing. But you can bet that I will use Colson's information next time I teach Stevens' poetry.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays

I refuse to get caught up in that silly argument that rages on in the news over whether it is still proper to say "Merry Christmas." Instead, "Happy holidays" is more politically correct, so that no one will be offended. It's always been Christmas as long as I can remember. We are so concerned about political correctness that we neglect much more important things.

So I say, if you wanta say "Merry Christmas," say that. And if you wanta say "Happy holidays," say that. But pay attention to important things. During this season, see if anybody is needy--hungry? cold? sad? See if you need to forgive somebody--or if somebody needs to forgive you. Tell somebody how much you love 'em. Give money to a charity. Buy somebody a present. Pray for peace on earth. That is my considered opinion.

This blog will hereby be on Christmas vacation until about December 28--taking a holiday!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The bells on
Christmas Day; their
Old familiar carols play. And
Wild and sweet the words repeat
Peace on earth,
Good will to men.
Did you ever wonder why that song says the words are “wild and sweet”? I’ve been thinking about that.
“Sweet” doesn’t give me much problem, but…. “wild”? The words of peace, hope, good will, love—those are wild, sweet thoughts. Maybe they’re like wildflowers, popping up unbidden in the middle of weeds. Maybe they’re like “wild mountain honey,” which you can buy in Ruidoso, New Mexico, the delicately sweet product of bees that feed on wildflowers. Hmmmm.
Those concepts are wonderful, uplifting promises. God uses them to pick us up out of cold, miserable despair and set us on stable ground.

Friday, December 16, 2005

One of my students, A. J., wrote a research paper about Julian of Norwich, a medieval anchoress. She said an anchoress was a person who lived in a little room in the church--a room with a view of the sanctuary. She spent her time in prayer and reflection; I suppose, then, her purpose was to keep the church "anchored" to God's Spirit in prayer. I believe prayer is one of the keys--perhaps THE key?--to the lack of true spiritual commitment in today's church.

A majority of people in America say they are Christians. And yet we see little real evidence of God's love in many people's lives. I think one reason is a vast lack of understanding. Even though the Bible continues to be the number one bestselling book, I don't think many people read it.

It was hard for me to figure out the documentation in parts of A. J.'s paper, so I don't know whether she copied this from a published source or wrote it as her own thoughts:

"When I was younger I will admit to not knowing or even caring to understand anything about church. All I knew was I had to go every Sunday with my family, then after church we never discussed church until the next Sunday. I believe if we could take every opportunity we had with our families or even close friends to discuss maybe the last church service we would learn that God is an awesome man and he means well. By taking God in and understanding the meanings behind the Bible, us as a society might really learn to appreciate God and the Bible for what it's worth.”

Oh, dear. I am alarmed about this view of God. He is "an awesome man" who "means well"?

In a public educational institution, I'm not supposed to talk much about God. I wanted to write in the margin of A. J.'s paper: God is no man. He is the supreme, holy God, creator of the universe; he does "mean well" but that's an understatement. His plans, which are higher than anything we could ever imagine, are far greater than anything we could possibly imagine, and they will succeed.

Later in her paper, she wrote that we can take what Julian of Norwich says "and really understand that Julian truly went through the experience of a religious life in order to tell us what we can do in the future to keep God alive."

I couldn't help myself. I took my purple pen in hand and wrote, "Man has actually nothing to do with keeping God alive--he is forever." We have fallen down on the job of teaching the young about God.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Here is some very interesting stuff by Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life:

The Church – the greatest force on Earth
by Rick Warren
The Church is everywhere in the world. There are villages that have little else, but they do have a church. -Rick Warren

The Church is the most magnificent concept ever created. It has survived persistent abuse, horrifying persecution, and widespread neglect. Yet despite its faults (due to our sinfulness), it is still God’s chosen instrument of blessing and has been for 2,000 years.

The Church will last for eternity, and because it is God’s instrument for ministry here on Earth, it is truly the greatest force on the face of the Earth. That’s why I believe tackling the world’s biggest problems – the giants of spiritual lostness, egocentric leadership, poverty, disease, and ignorance – can only be done through the Church.

The Church has eight distinct advantages over the efforts of business and government:
(and this is just the first one--Judy:)

1. The Church provides for the largest participation. Most people have no idea how many Christians there are in the world: More than 2 billion people claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. That’s one third of the world’s population! The Church has about a billion more people than the entire nation of China.

For example, about 100 million people in the United States went to church this past weekend. That’s more people than will attend sporting events in the United States throughout this year. The Church is the largest force for good in the world. Nothing else even comes close.
This comes from Warren's web site

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

One of my friends is a pediatrics nurse who has worked for years with labor and delivery. She e-mailed me yesterday in response to my prayer request for Kathy, the young mother with high blood pressure, and her unborn baby son Daniel.

She said that it's true that the baby would be safer outside the uterine environment because of the high blood pressure. But--there's a positive aspect of it: the mother's high blood pressure has the effect of causing the baby's lungs to mature faster, to prepare him for breathing earlier.

I continue to be amazed at God's provision and planning. He loves tiny babies and wants life and good health for them. Who says there's no intelligent design? I am in awe of him.

Speaking of awe, I can't wait to see The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which is out now. It is based--very closely, I hear--on C. S. Lewis' novel, part of the Chronicles of Narnia. Today's special effects capabilities will be put to the test with this story, as with the Lord of the Rings series. Can the moviemakers convey the awe that the inhabitants of Narnia feel for Aslan, the lion who represents Christ?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A World of Prayer

Just think about this for a minute.

I sent an e-mail last night to about thirty of my friends and relatives, asking them to pray for a mother, Kathy, and her unborn baby, Daniel, who are having a hard time right now.

If each one of the thirty forwards my message to thirty friends, nine hundred people could be praying for them. Then, if each of the nine hundred forwards it to thirty friends, 27,000 could be praying. And that’s after only three layers of forwarding. (I call it “layers,” not knowing what else to call it. There is probably a word for it.) Before too long, if people continued to send it, close to a million people could be praying for Kathy and baby Daniel.

I have always been bad at math--but this is bound to be right, isn’t it? Or close to right?

The main point here is that God can use the Internet in amazing ways to further his purposes. The body of Christ can stay connected through prayer—the world-wide body of Christ, not just the ones I know personally. We need to tap into this power and wrap up the whole world in prayer.

In First Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul says, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." And we ought to use this world-encircling modern technology as we pray without ceasing, so that it will go everywhere.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Like a Child

Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:3-4 (NASB)

When I was a child, I knew that my parents loved me and would always provide me with whatever I needed and protect me from harmful things. I knew they would comfort me when I was sad, doctor me when I hurt, and explain things I didn't understand. I never had to pretend with them because they loved me as I was. I knew sometimes they didn't like what I did, but they always loved me. They would never change or leave me. I was very fortunate to have parents like that.

I believe that God means for all of us to have--and to be--parents like mine; this kind of love mirrors his love for us. But as rare and wonderful as this kind of parental love is, it is not enough. We need God's unconditional love; only his love is perfect, whereas human love is flawed. We need him for our Father.

If we become like little children, we will trust him completely. We can depend on him to provide for all our needs. He will even help us sort out confusion and frustration. He may sometimes discipline us, but he never stops loving us. He will never change or go away.

Thank you, Lord, for being our Father. Help me to be like a little child, to walk hand in hand with you, knowing you will never let go.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

A World Transformed

The only time I’ve ever taught in junior high was the 1969-70 school year, when I had three double periods of eighth grade English. I loved my eighth graders. Several years younger than the high-schoolers I had been teaching for five years before that, they were still young enough to listen and respond to what an adult might say. It probably helped that I was, as they said, the only “young” teacher they had ever had. I was twenty-seven.

This memory triggers an earlier one.

When I was in elementary school, our small town’s economy and daily life were deeply tied in with a seven-year drought. It ruled us. Sometimes reddish dust blew, so thick we could hardly see. Our post-war lives were austere, in a way, partly because of the drought, although as a child, I paid little attention to such things.

Our school was plain—pale green walls decorated by black and white pictures of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and upper and lower-case alphabets. Our teachers were, we thought, “old.” They were wise and kind, for the most part, but they looked grandmotherly.

The fifth grade brought sudden change. The new principal, Mr. Holmes, was a handsome middle-aged man with a big smile and black, wavy hair; he piqued our interest. But the new young, pretty music teacher, Mrs. Phillips, made the whole place transform into Technicolor, like the Land of Oz.

She taught us wonderful songs, like “Return to Sorrento,” “Shenandoah,” and a song about dancing and singing and turning “upon the green, to the merry sounds of pure delight.” And the state song and “America the Beautiful.” We trampled the grapes of wrath, and we did a big western production, all dressed up in costumes. Our world opened up to laughter, music, and color, and we didn’t care if the dust blew.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

I wrote yesterday about a class I had in 1999; the students were quiet and fearful.... I began to pray for them as broken and hurting people.

A few weeks later as they took their final exam, I watched them, fretted over them, and prayed for understanding--how could I help future students like this? God brought to my mind a Bible passage that I had learned to depend on a few years before; it had given me strength, confidence, and courage: Jeremiah 17: 5-8.

"This is what the Lord says: 'Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans and turn their hearts away from the Lord. They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, on the salty flats where no one lives.

'But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they go right on producing delicious fruit.'" (New Living Translation)

When we do not trust in him, we trust in something or somebody else. In that state of mind, we depend on other people to give us stability. We look to others (who are, themselves, looking to others) for our self-image, and our emotional well-being suffers. We are like scrubby bushes, barely alive in the desert, because we have no stable place to sink our roots--no nourishment. One unstable Godless human is powerless to provide emotional stability to another.

So how do we “put our trust in him”? On purpose. We have to become deliberate about it, tell him we trust him and love him and put ourselves into his hands. He gladly wraps us up in those hands and gladly shows the way to live, in every circumstance, if we talk to him and listen to his heart, talking to ours.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Fear Pressure

In 1999, I was bewildered by my 8:00 o'clock freshman composition class. For the first time in fifteen years of college teaching, I couldn't get the class comfortable enough with each other and with me to readily participate in class discussion.

If I made a joke that other classes found funny, they cast surreptitious glances at each other and smiled politely at me. If I asked questions that in other classes led to long, meaty discussions, they either gazed at me with faintly puzzled looks or buried their noses in their books to avoid eye contact. When a student was more or less coerced into saying something, it was barely audible, the others looking sideways at each other with expressionless faces.

I realized that one problem was that over half the class was made up of high school seniors, taking the course for dual credit. I had had seniors many times before, but never more than four in a class; they had always melded readily into the college class environment and started acting like "college students," at least while they were there. Peer pressure seemed to be the main obstacle here--defined in my mind as an intense desire of members of a group to be alike.

Near the end of the semester, I realized that I had spent little time praying for them . . . well, none, actually. As they worked on a writing assignment that day, I prayed for their sense of independence and confidence and that they would find peace and comfort with each other.

Suddenly, God helped me realize that peer pressure is not an intense desire to be like others; instead, it is an almost paralyzing fear of being different from others. This realization led me to feel keenly the extent of this fear--and of the pain and loneliness it fosters. I began to care about them as broken and hurting people and to pray often for them.

To be continued!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A Parade...A Procession

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a large celebration if ever there was one, takes place annually in New York City. When we attended that amazing event in about 1974, one million people were said to be there, lining the streets for several miles. This year, Mike Cope was there; he describes it in his blog. He says two and a half million people were there to watch the famous parade. In his November 30 entry, he tells all about it—look it up:!

We live in a small town, and to see that many people all at once, in person, is mind-boggling to us. Ours is a SMALL small town. And we like it that way.

We went to our town’s Christmas Parade last Saturday night. The entire town turned out, and it lasted about twenty minutes and was some six blocks long. Santa presided atop the main big red fire engine. The parade entries were lighted, decorated pickups, trailers, trucks, four-wheelers, and horses. Carolers sang and children posed as elves and people threw out candy. It was a lot of fun. (Okay, maybe not the whole town was there, but at least three hundred people out of the 3500, I’ll bet.)

A parade is wonderful way to celebrate an important time. A small parade is just as exciting as a huge one--people coming together for one purpose--nobody busy or in a hurry.

Another procession comes to my mind--small, but of great moment. The three wise men and the shepherds could hardly be called a parade as they followed an unusually bright star in the east. They were led there to Bethlehem by the insistent Spirit of God to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s own son, who would change everything by his love.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Weighty Reading

As I wait in line at the grocery check-out counter, my eyes always rove to the book and magazine displays. I get a kick out of reading the headlines in the National Enquirer and a couple of other sensational newspapers. From them, we can learn all about space aliens, fifty-pound babies, long-dead celebrities who reappear, and giant pavement-eating earthworms—not to mention politicians who mate with space aliens and produce fifty-pound human-alien babies.

I never buy those. But I do sometimes buy little recipe books, especially for chocolate desserts. (You can see where my heart…er…stomach lies.) I have a friend at the college who has the same buying habit. She told me that she reads those books in bed, right before she goes to sleep. She never lets chocolate books make it to the kitchen—too fattening. She doesn’t trust herself.

Once in a while, I find a good paperback book there. A week or so ago, I was surprised to see that S. E. Hinton had a new novel published last year—Hawkes Harbor. So I bought it. About a third of the way into it, my jury is still out on it; it seems a little depressing so far. I am more of an upbeat-book kind of girl.

There is a reason why I am drawn to a book by Hinton. In 1970 when I taught eighth-grade English, Hinton had recently published her internationally acclaimed bestseller, The Outsiders. I read that story aloud to my eighth-graders, in fifteen to thirty-minute increments. They loved it and became quite involved, emotionally, with the teenage characters. One student’s mother told me that she overheard her daughter and a friend talking about how sad they were that “Johnny” had died. The mother was alarmed, thinking one of their schoolmates had died.

Now, thirty-five years later, when I run into some of those students, they still remember Johnny and Ponyboy. So--I want to see if Hawkes Harbor is that memorable.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Quiet

Every year, at least once, I catch a miserable cold, and my voice goes out, so that I can only make barely audible squeaks. It happened earlier than usual this year.

It’s funny how people react when you can barely talk . They get very quiet. In my classes, I have to point and give handouts and write on the chalkboard a lot—and turn out class early. The students listen very carefully and ask quiet questions. When they leave, they try not to make noise, and they walk slowly.

Yesterday, I went into a Subway to order sandwiches for my husband and me. The girl who waited on me hung on my every word. (She had to, to hear what I wanted.) And she asked me questions slowly and quietly.

Little children whisper to people with laryngitis. They are the ultimate sympathizers. We should take lessons from them.


Here is very touching web site:
More about that generation soon.


I’ve been enjoying some great music lately: John Michael Talbot’s album “The Quiet”; Michael W. Smith’s “Freedom”; and several Christmas albums by Mannheim Steamroller, best instrumentalists of all time.

Monday, December 05, 2005

'Tis the Season to Be Jolly...

We put up our Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving. All the grandchildren helped—that is, all but the two babies! About halfway up the tree, we have several fairly large masses of decorations in clumps, sort of. There are glass balls almost on top of each other, then candy canes hanging too close to elves and reindeer and angels. But we all declared that it is very beautiful-- the best one yet.

The oldest ornament we have is a red and white plastic Santa Claus with a little groove in his hand where he once held a lollipop. (I started to say “sucker,” but “lollipop” is a much nicer word, don’t you agree?) It was on our family tree back in the fifties.

Our oldest granddaughter loves the little clear, handblown glass ball that I bought at a glass-blowing factory in Switzerland when her mother and I went with a school tour about….eighteen years ago. I can’t imagine why I didn’t buy at least a dozen of them. My favorites are a ceramic quetzel bird and a vanilla bean bird that my parents brought us from South America. The vanilla bean bird lives in an aluminum can all year, so it smells wonderful when we take it out.

But then, too, some of my favorites are the ones our kids made in elementary school with their pictures in the center. And the ones a dear friend did for us in needlepoint.

We all had hysterics over the white macrame wreath I crafted back in the seventies when macrame was all the rage. Even so, it did manage to make it to the front door, decked out in bright red and green plaid ribbon, newly unwrinkled.

It reminds me of when my brother and I were little and our parents let us decorate our tree. They would sit and watch and hand us things, nodding and chuckling and declaring its beauty. The last thing to go on the tree was always the tinsel. Jim and I would get handfuls of it and throw it on the tree. My sainted mother never rearranged anything or made any disparaging remarks, even though now, in pictures from those days, I can certainly see the results.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A Good Life Spared

This morning, I was very happy to see one of my friends, an 80-year-old man, at church, all dressed up in a suit, looking like his usual self. He and his wife were busy taking care of their customary duties.

Lloyd has always been an unusual person, seeming much younger than his years. He has remained slim, healthy, and spry and very much involved in the lives of his children, his community, and his church. Everyone thinks highly of him and his wife Betty; they are some of the most humble, kind people you could ever find.

He is an active professional who still works part-time, substituting for people in his profession when they take vacations or are absent from work--for long periods, sometimes. To do the fill-in work, he has to drive to other towns, usually within a hundred miles of our town. He has a very fancy motorcycle, a shiny, heavy black rig, which he likes to ride to work. Saves a lot on gasoline, Lloyd says—and besides that, he enjoys it. He has ridden a motorcycle for forty years. (He pronounces the last part like the “cycle” in “bicycle.”)

A few weeks ago, that almost ended when he was coming home on that black motorcycle after dark from a town about an hour away. He was in a hurry because of an important meeting at the church he wanted to go to, so he was driving about 75 miles per hour. An unsuspecting deer ran out in front of him. When the motorcycle hit the deer, Lloyd was thrown to the pavement. He suffered two broken bones and cuts in both hands, five broken ribs, bruised lungs, and a badly skinned knee. From the looks of his helmet, his head bounced on the pavement a number of times. He spent about a week in the hospital and at least a week at home in his recliner.

His family had planned, for some time, to surprise him with a big eightieth birthday party. Betty and Mary and Dede had already invited everyone who has ever worked for Lloyd, as well as many friends and relatives. They considered postponing the party. But they decided he could sit in a recliner at his party as well as he could sit in it at home—so they went ahead with it. I was one of probably at least 200 people who attended the party. It was a time made more poignant by his brush with death—a time when love and appreciation poured out in great measure for this precious man and his family.

Yes, he’ll probably get back on that motorcycle. "Oh, yeah, pretty soon," he said. But he said he has an eternal message to others now: Wear a helmet!!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Day of Reconciliation...Maybe?

More about yesterday’s subject: the National Day of Reconciliation, Dec. 4. I realized that I don’t know whether that resolution called for two days of reconciliation only for the year 2001, or for every year. Now that I think about it, I believe it might have been just that year, as the resolution was passed right after the terrible events of September 11.

Nevertheless, I think it would be wonderful if every person would declare a Personal Day of Reconciliation. This country is very divided—very angry—each segment of each thing blaming and despising others. I wish that people could ….no, what I really mean is…I wish they would hold all others in love, in respect, with dignity. (They could, if they would.) We could declare a moratorium on anger, manipulation, deceit, revenge, and the use of the big put-down.

When I speak of the importance of love to my students, many of them think I mean romantic love betwixt two humans—especially two college students of the opposite sex. (Easy to see what’s on their minds!) And I always have to explain that the Romantic Period in British and American literature was not a time of heightened romantic sexual attraction. What I am referring to is agape—universal love. That is the kind of love we all need.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Endless Forgiveness

In a previous post, I wrote about Jan Karon’s book Light from Heaven—now here it comes again.

A pastor in the story changes the sign outside his church periodically. Father Tim always passes by there on his way to town and notices the sign. Usually, it says nothing very remarkable, as the pastor tries not to offend anybody. But at Christmas time, it is inspired. It says, “Love is an act of endless forgiveness” (362).

I got an e-mail last year, one of those things that seem to float around in cyberspace forever. The writer said that December 4 is the National Day of Reconciliation. I wondered….can that be true? I doubted it. But think how it would be if people deliberately tried to reconcile their differences.

The Snopes web site gave me the answer. It is true. Here, in part, is the Snopes report:

"Senate Concurrent Resolution 83, agreed to on 16 November 2001, actually provides for not one but two National Days of Reconciliation, one on November 27 and the other on December 4. On those days, members of Congress will gather in the Capitol rotunda with the chaplains of the House and the Senate in order to 'seek the blessings of Providence for forgiveness, reconciliation, unity, and charity for all people of the United States,' as called for in the resolution."

By this means, the two houses of the government will be assisting “the Nation to realize its potential as —

(A) the champion of hope;
(B) the vindicator of the defenseless; and
(C) the guardian of freedom."

Read about it at this web site:

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Outlandish Love

Recently, I was reading in the book of John, chapter 11, the story of Lazarus, raised from the dead, and his two sisters, Mary and Martha.

And then this in chapter 12: six days before the Passover, Jesus was in Bethany and ate with Mary and Martha and a lot of other people. Mary poured some expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and dried them with her hair. The fragrance of the perfume filled the house.

These words leaped off the page and spoke to me. I’ve read that many times before, but this time, I really understood why she did that. She had seen his glory—his love—and she loved him extravagantly. I could almost feel her feelings, in a way. He had raised her brother from death...after four days.

I think we’re meant to have that kind of unreserved, outlandish love for him. And our lives are to be a display of it. Amen!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Shape of Color

I never could do much with an Etch-a-Sketch--you know, those things that you “draw” pictures on by moving magnetic filings around with two dials, one that moves the line horizontally, and the other, vertically. I can make good steps and skyscrapers, if I hold my mouth right and really try hard, while making thoughtful groaning noises. I am thinking of this while I pick up toys left over from the Thanksgiving visit of our grandchildren.

My daughter-in-law, on the other hand, can use those Etch-a-Sketch dials to draw people’s faces, and they actually look like the people. It’s amazing.

Several years ago, my oldest granddaughter, then five, was working hard on the Etch-a-Sketch. She wouldn’t let any of us see what she was doing. When she finished, she showed it to me. “What do you think it is, Mom-oh?” she asked.

I studied the picture, a complicated mass of lines and shapes, and said, “Mmmm, a circus.”

“Nope,” she said. “It is a wagon the shape of a color. And it ‘dustes’ off the wind.”

God gives children wonderful imaginations, doesn’t he? What shape could a color be?

On Books: Jan Karon

I love the Mitford novels, a series by Jan Karon about the doings of Father Tim Kavanaugh, an Episcopal priest who lives in Mitford, North Carolina. I love the way Karon describes things, especially characters and dialogue. Right now I'm reading the latest, Light from Heaven. In this novel, Father Tim has agreed to try to revive a tiny church in the mountains that has been empty for 40 years.

A character named Sparkle volunteers to play the piano for the little Holy Trinity Church. She talks to the vicar about how it felt when she decided to obey God's nudge to volunteer her efforts: ". . . when you called for somebody this mornin', I got this warm feelin', kind of like choc'late meltin' if you leave it in th' car when it's hot, an' I knew th' Lord wanted me to do it" (298). A perfect description!

Karon, Jan. The Mitford Years: Light from Heaven. New York: Viking, 2005.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Consider the Owl

The other morning when it was still pitch dark outside, I was cooking breakfast with one eye open. It was verrrrry quiet—we live sort of out in the country, well away from traffic and other such hubbub. Suddenly, just as the eggs began to thicken, I heard the soft “hoo-hoo” of an owl. Sometimes we can hear two owls with distinctively different voices, calling to each other. But this owl was solitary; he called and called, but no one answered.

When our daughter was about three years old, a huge owl with horn-like tufts on its head wound up on the fence at my parents’ house, and we went over to see it. It kept blinking one great yellow eye at us and turned its head almost all the way around. We wondered if it was sick or injured, because it did not move. It looked angry or disapproving, in a dignified way, and wise beyond all knowing. Be assured, we didn’t get too close to it, just in case it decided it wanted us for lunch. Later, we looked up pictures of owls and determined that it was a great horned owl.

I am amazed to think that such intriguing creatures are out around our house all night, hunting, mating, eating—and we hardly ever see them in the daytime. I suppose they are too busy sleeping with one eye open and working up that righteous anger.

The owl's picture comes from this web site:

Monday, November 28, 2005

Let's Love Each Other

Yesterday morning, our daughter and grandchildren were still at our house, and we were all sitting down to eat breakfast. Our four-year-old granddaughter said to me, "Mom-oh, would you sit by me?"

"Absolutely," I said. "I'm going to sit right here." I was at the end of the table, and she was at the side, to my left.

She patted the table next to her. "Would you sit real close to me?" she asked.

My heart was warmed and very touched. I pulled my chair around the table corner and got as close to her as I could. We ate breakfast elbow-to-elbow and had a meaningful discussion about the processes of making doughnut holes and inserting cream into chocolate eclairs. I love being loved by a four-year-old.

I believe God often uses human relationships like this to show us things we need to understand about him. I think he wants us to see him as a caring father whom we love, and he asks us to sit as close as possible. He loves being loved by us.

If we have ever felt love--we have known something of him, whether we realize it or not. First John 4:7-8 says this: "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God."

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Taste and see that the Lord is good. Psalm 34:8

World's greatest chocolate chip cookies: here is the recipe. Try some, o world, and weep for joy.

I guess this is a little ironic, since my first entry is thoughts I had after being upset with myself for overeating. However! I believe that God gave us wonderful, tasty foods. But to go along with that gift, he gave us the capacity of self-discipline: we get hunger pangs when we need food, and we get “full” feelings when we’ve had enough. I believe we should be guided by those God-installed indicators.

Am I myself always disciplined in this sense? Nope, unfortunately, not nearly as often as I should be; but I am nearly always mindful of it. I know it’s there.

I have read that chocolate is good for you--it contains antioxidents. Can it be true? I've just been waiting for this kind of news all my life.

Alert!! It's best not to use an electric mixer! Just use a big spoon.

Sift together and set aside: Oven: 375
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
a pinch or so of salt
a little over 1/4, but not a full 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Cream together in a big bowl:
2 sticks of margarine; the best is Fleischman's Original, microwaved for 9 seconds, or left out of the refrigerator to soften.
1/2 c. white sugar
1/4 c. turbinado sugar, for slight crunchiness
3/4 c. light brown sugar

1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs (or equal amount of egg substitute)

Dump the dry ingredients into the wet, and stir it as you whisper to it gently. Mix it only until the dry stuff is barely visible any more. Important: Don't over-mix!

Add 3/4 package semi-sweet chocolate chips and 3/4 package milk chocolate chips. Nestle's is best! Sometimes we substitute M&M’s for the milk chocolate chips. (And pecans, if you feel you must.) Stir only long enough to distribute the chocolate chips.

Spoon the dough onto a cookie sheet and bake them for about 8 minutes or so, depending on your oven. You have to watch carefully and take them out when the cookies are lightly browned. Remove them carefully with a spatula and put them on a wire rack to cool.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I'm thankful for......

I am thankful for all kinds of things. I feel a huge, overriding, always-there thankfulness for the sacrifice of Jesus. And God's continual presence in my life. And my family and friends. And America, a place where I can say whatever I want to in a blog!

Here are some things I am recently thankful for!

Last night, I was visiting with my brother and his family, and his fourteen-year-old daughter played her flute and her piccolo for us. She's very good at it, and she played some beautiful pieces on the flute. (I have to agree with my brother that the piccolo is a bit too loud and screechy.) I could see that she really loves playing; I could tell by the way her face looked as she played. She looked away from us, and she drifted off into the music, her arms and shoulders swaying rhythmically. The tone was tremulous and rich.

The thing is, I thought about how thankful I am that at her young age, she has found something that she gives herself to so completely. Many people search all their lives for something meaningful and never find it. I think it will always be important to her and give her joy.

I am thankful for the life of a good North Carolina friend of ours who died two years ago today. He was the kind of person who touched the heart of everybody he knew because he was caring, giving, and loving. He was completely unpretentious; his life was full of grace. We'll remember him always. And we'll stay close to his wife and his two children, who are like him--his legacy.

As I drove to work this morning, I was thankful for the autumn leaves of the thousands of oak trees in my part of the country. It has been very dry this fall, so they aren't as vivid as they sometimes are. They are bronze, gold, red, rust, orange, burnt umber--gorgeous! I am reminded that Robert Frost said "nothing gold can stay." So these beauteous colors will be with us briefly and then they'll fall off and pile up and leave bare limbs. Oh, well!

I'm thankful, too, for our two big lunky dogs. Spot gets hysterical when we come home, even if we've been gone only fifteen minutes. Taz is obsessed with chasing tennis balls. He would rather be petted than eat--unless leftover real meat is the option, of course. They love and adore us. I think maybe God means them to be a kind of picture for us of unconditional love.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

God draws connections . . .

God draws connections for us between our experiences so that we can learn about him better—have it reinforced—draw closer to him.

Example: Last night, I got upset about my overeating—I prayed about it. I said, “Lord, I thank you that you give us the power to overcome the evil one. We can banish him in your name, and he leaves. That’s incredible power. Please, Lord, show me how to do it with power so that he really will leave me alone.” In a few minutes, I got an answer, in the form of a thought in my head.

The answer: Use the armor of God. Read Ephesians. So I got out my Bible. Before I got to the verses about the armor, I saw the verses about power—the power we have in him . . .

Eph. 1:19-20: “. . . and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms. . . .”

This morning at church, the scripture-reading lady came forward to read the first scripture reference. It was Ephesians 1:15-23, the exact verses I had been directed to the night before.

Thank you, Lord, for showing me the connections that exist between my experiences so that I may know you better and learn to live in you.