Thursday, February 11, 2016

Last Saturday I found myself at Costco in the middle of the afternoon. It was the only time I could get there. It seemed to be the worst time to go.

It was crowded. The aisles were packed, some so full you couldn't get though them. Three people at the meat counter seemed to be having some kind of committee meeting about what to buy, right in front of the section I needed to reach. I couldn't find the one item I needed to get for dinner that night. And the cart was heavy. I was tired. My arms were hurting from working out the day before...

Let's just say I had a bad attitude.

Then it occurred to me. Here I was in Costco with a full cart of grocery items, many of which I did not even need. I live in a country where the vast majority of people do not suffer from hunger. (And many of them were right there in Costco.) :-) And instead of thanking God for his countless blessings, I was complaining. Instead of realizing that having enough food is a gift from God, I was griping about the heaviness of the cart, the extra time it took to shop with so many other blessed people, and the fact that I couldn't get the one item I had wanted.

Wow. I had to repent.

Lord, may I never overlook (or complain!) about the numerous ways you have blessed my life. Help me not to be that spoiled child who must have everything her way. Help me to see the truth about my life. And please forgive me, Lord, for the pride that says I must not be inconvenienced.

Monday, February 08, 2016

The Common Year: A year of music, writing, art, stories, and much more.....

The plaque on my wall says, "There Is Always, Always, Always Something To Be Thankful For." When I saw it for sale at the Dixboro General Store, I knew I needed to have that where it would be frequently seen.

 Every day is full of beauty, love, and the Presence of God. It really is.

OK. I'll grant you that not every day feels like a good day. In fact, on some days it can even feel that nearly everything has gone wrong. Yet, indeed, there is always something to be thankful for.

There are loved ones. There is the sunshine (sometimes) or a beautiful sunrise or sunset. Every season has it's beauty. And there are the things that the exceptionally blessed people (myself included) regularly overlook. Food on the table, a roof over our head, the warmth and comfort of home and beds, family, friends,...

How often do we just overlook the Beauty in the Common.

There is the darling child who just walked by, the smile returned to you by a cashier, the understanding of a friend, the joke that makes you laugh, that magnificent tree that you rarely look at, the lovely photo on Facebook.... The beauty is everywhere in the simple common things that are the stuff of life.

Ian Simkins is a pastor, a writer, a kind and generous man, and truly something of a philosopher. (He also just happens to be the brother of my son-in-law.) He has put together the project, Beauty in the Common, and the fascinating multidimensional offshoot, The Common Year.

The Common Year is divided into twelve themes, one for each month, describing various dimensions of beauty in the common rhythms of daily life. The theme for February is Beauty in the Stillness and I had the privilege of contributing a piece for the first week. It starts:
There had been a heavy snowfall. As is my habit, I set out, shovel in hand, to clear the snow from the sidewalk and driveway. I knew it was good exercise and somehow I thought that was the reason I enjoyed it. 
 The night was quiet, all sound muted by the heavy accumulation of snow. I scraped my shovel along the concrete. In the distance there were faint sounds of other shovels scraping. A dog barked far off in the distance. Somehow, with no other people in sight, I felt the unity of myself with others. Here we all were, trying to survive in a climate that would be barely habitable were it not for modernity. 
 I chuckled as my breath froze with each exhaled exertion, and I realized it was not the exercise that made this somehow pleasant.  I don’t even like to exercise.  It was the silence. The relentless cacophony of everyday life had been paused....
To read the entire piece go to this link.

Many thanks to Pastor Ian for this invitation to slow down, to see the beauty all around us, to be still, and to know the Presence of God.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

I'm A Grandmother!

Some of you may remember how last Mother's Day my daughter and son-in-law surprised us with the news that we were going to be grandparents. Yes, I fell completely apart with joy. I was presented with a little onesie that says "Grandma's Favorite, December 2015

And sure enough, this December, my little grandson, Blaise, entered the world. And he IS my favorite!

Words cannot describe how in love we are with him!
I mean, seriously, look at this face!

My daughter and her husband live in what I call the Manhattan of downtown Ypsilanti. It's a loft apartment right in the center of everything. (Unfortunately. it's too small for a family, so they will be moving soon from this historic and fascinating neighborhood)

I have had the distinct privilege of being able to help my daughter Anne as she recovers from childbirth. We have had so much fun.

Grandpa with the Little Man.

The delight on this little face mirrors the utter delight in my heart to have this new tiny (for the moment) person to cherish.

I'm in heaven. I don't know what else to say.

My daughter is a wonderful mother. So happy that my grandson has been gifted with two parents who love him to the ends of the Earth, four grandparents who cherish him to the depths of our hearts, and many aunts and uncles who could not be happier with this new member of the family.

He is one happy baby, as well he should be.

God is good. All the time!!!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Suddenly. It's winter here in Michigan. Last week we had days that felt like the coolness of summer. I was riding my bike!

Then, out of nowhere, came six inches of snow!!

The above maple tree seemed to have missed the memo. I don't know that it dropped a single leaf before the snowfall. I can't blame it. I scarcely knew how late we were in the season myself. Now our sidewalk looks like this.

Do we shovel snow? Rake leaves? In the end, we did neither, following the tree's example. I guess all of nature has its procrastinators.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Good Samaritan Keeps Coming to Mind....

Recent discussions of Syrians seeking refugee status in the United States raise serious questions for the Christian. We are called to welcome the stranger in our midst.

The levite and the priest who passed by the injured man were identified by Christ as examples of not loving one's neighbor. Were they callous people, uncaring, lacking in compassion? Perhaps. They may also have thought that they did not have the resources to care for him. Might they have been scared that he would harm them, that his lying there was a trap? Perhaps. We don't know what was happening in the minds and hearts of those who passed the man by.

We do know that the Samaritan was held up as the example of Christian charity.

Yes, we are also called to use good judgement and to protect ourselves and our families. And nations have the right to protect their borders.

But let's consider the plight of the Syrian refugees. The Christians, in particular, have been horribly persecuted. More than 400 of their churches have been destroyed. The St. Eliane Monastery, over 1500 years old, was completely destroyed by ISIS. Hundreds of thousands of Christians have been kidnapped. Seventy-four children were executed by ISIS. Children. Two of them were crucified for not fasting during Ramadan and their bodies were put on display.

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child has reported that children have been tortured, buried alive, used as suicide bombers, and sold as sex slaves.

The people of Syria and Iraq are enduring unspeakable horrors. Is our concern for the possibility of admitting members of ISIS pretending to be Christians or moderate Muslims justified? Somewhat. There is the risk of that happening. We certainly have a right to insist that our government very seriously vet these refugees and to explain in detail what the vetting process is. Is the risk great enough to warrant a refusal to accept any refugees from Syria?

Of all foreign travelers to the U.S. the refugee is given the highest level of scrutiny. The application can take as long as 18-24 months. There are much easier and faster ways to gain admittance to the United States. Let's not forget that the recent attacks in Paris included nationals of Belgium and France, both countries that are visa waiver countries. You don't even need a visa to enter the United States from visa waiver countries. Jihadi John of the infamous beheading video was from the United Kingdom, another visa waiver country. The Tsarnaev brothers from Chechnya came here on tourist visas with their family and their father later sought asylum here. The 9/11 hijackers were here mostly on tourist visas. One had a student visa.

Clearly, not admitting Syrian refugees to this country is not going to prevent jihadists from coming here. They are in numerous countries throughout the world, including this one, and there are other simpler methods available for entering the United States that do not include the scrutiny given the refugee.

The president has proposed that we admit some 85,000 refugees in fiscal year 2016, of which 10,000 would be Syrian. By the end of 2014, Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan had taken in over 3 million refugees. We are talking about 10,000 coming here from Syria.

It's a complicated question that involves very passionate opinions on all sides. It seems to me that we have a responsibility to take in refugees. In the case of Syria, where our Christian brothers and sisters have suffered so horribly, we have a particular obligation.

Is there a risk? Yes. Does our responsibility to be the Samaritan outweigh the danger? I think it does.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Momnipotent Book and Study by Danielle Bean

Author and editor Danielle Bean, herself a mother of eight, offers in her book Momnipotent a heartfelt encouragement to all mothers. Momnipotence, she explains, is “the kind of strength and power that belongs uniquely to women. When we deny our call to motherhood and fail to recognize its intrinsic dignity and worth, we deny the very gifts that make us uniquely female.”

Danielle Bean knows that she is expressing an idea profoundly countercultural and addresses the issue head-on.  “One of the fundamental tenets of modern popular thought is the rejection of traditional marriage and motherhood as cultural clich├ęs that enslave women and rob them of their identities.” Indeed, this tenet underlies much of current discussion on the status of women and, sadly, it is rarely challenged openly. 

But Danielle Bean does just that.  She writes, “Betraying authentic femininity and squashing our true nature as women does not sound very empowering to me.”  Nor does it to me.  She goes on, “Motherhood is seen in some circles today, and those circles seem to be expanding, as demeaning to women because it removes them to such an extent from what is valued as really important, which is to say, the conspicuous achievements in society.”  Those who hold such views, of course, deny the very essence of what it means to be a woman. Bean continues, “If we ridicule and belittle the role of motherhood, the very place where women exercise their greatest strengths and find meaning and purpose for their greatest gifts, how can we expect happy and fulfilled individuals to result?

Rich with quotes from Pope Saint John Paul II’s Mulieris Dignitatum (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women)  Momnipotence offers an honest look at our uniquely feminine gifts and how they lead us to true happiness in our motherhood, a gift from God.  And Bean makes clear that all women are called to be mothers, not only biological mothers. She is including religious sisters, single women, and women unable to have children. All women are called to motherhood in the spiritual sense. To be a woman is to be maternal.

This book is about the gifts and importance of motherhood and about achieving balance in our everyday lives. Each chapter discusses a strength of motherhood and how its misuse can become a weakness. Simple five question quizzes at the end of each chapter help us to see where and how we can become more balanced and thus more conformed to God’s image of motherhood.

An eight week study can also be purchased with Momnipotent, including a DVD set entitled Momnipotent: Finding Peace, Balance, and Joy in Your Vocation as Mother.

With all of the negative propaganda about mothering in our culture today, this book and study will offer real encouragement to women. Motherhood is indeed a great gift from God, and Danielle Bean has helped women to truly appreciate it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Warning: Political Post....My Two Cents on the Debate (For what little it's worth)

I don't know why I thoroughly enjoy these debates but I do. I love the give and take, the exchange of ideas, the thinking on their feet.

Last night my husband indulged me by watching most of both debates. I bought our favorite candy bars as treats for both of us. (When you get to be as old as we are, it doesn't take much to entertain.)

At the first debate, I had the following impressions:

Rick Santorum: I love Rick Santorum. I love his policies. I think he's a good man. But he did not really shine at the debate. Looks defensive when he starts reciting his political resume.

Chris Christie-- I thought Christie did quite well. He was forceful, logical. Good performance.

Huckabee-- He always comes across as a nice guy. Nothing remarkable last night.

Bobby Jindal-- Very forceful. A little too combative towards the other governors. Unbecoming.

At the second debate:

Kasich-- Interrupted too much early on, when no one else was doing it. It was annoying. A little too much pontificating. Wasn't convincing.

Bush-- I'm afraid Mr. Bush, like his father, is a bit too much of a gentleman to make it with this lineup. He seems capable, but weak.

Rubio-- Rubio continues to shine. He has a lot of facts at his fingertips and delivers them well. He's articulate and impassioned.

Trump-- Trump. What do you say about Trump? He just doesn't have the knowledge I like to see in a candidate. I'm not really sure how conservative he truly is. It's so hard to listen to someone so full of himself. Plus, as Kristie did in the last debate, he called out Fiorina for interrupting, even though all the candidates were interrupting. Made me wonder, in both cases, what their motivations were.

Carson-- Here is a sincere, devout, intelligent Christian man. People love him. I'm not sure he communicates accurately enough for the political fray, but I love to see him rising in the polls.

Cruz-- Cruz is a great conservative. Bothers me a little that he seems to think deporting every illegal alien is a position on which no compromise could be reached. He also seems a little too rehearsed, almost not genuine, although I think he is sincere. Just comes across that way and I think it's to his political disadvantage.

Fiorina-- I think Carly Fiorina is the most articulate and most knowledgeable candidate on the stage. She may also be the most courageous. I would love for her to get the nomination because she could run circles around Hilary in a debate. She is the only candidate I've given money to.

Paul--I do not agree with Rand Paul on several issues. But he is a true conservative and I like his boldness. I was impressed that after Trump had gone on and on about China in response to a question about the TPP, it was Paul who mentioned that China was not in the TPP. Good point. I think Rand Paul would be doing much better if he didn't so often seem annoyed, almost smug, as though he can't believe the voters don't comprehend that he has all the answers. (Maybe it's not that, I don't know.)

I would like to see a Fiorina/Rubio ticket. Yes, Fiorina for president, with Rubio as a running mate. That's my choice, so far. (Only because I don't think Santorum is going to make it.)

Moderators: Excellent questions, although a couple were rather long winded. Glad they did not have the dog-and-pony-show atmosphere or the let's-see-if-we-can-make-them-fight atmospheres of the previous two debates. The only pointless question seemed to be What democrat to you admire? None of the candidates answered it, so there was no time wasted it. I did wonder why they never asked the candidates to stop speaking out of turn. As a substitute teacher that bugs me. Raise your hand if you want to talk. :-)

May the Lord, in his mercy, give us not the candidate and president we deserve, but rather the president who can take us back to goodness.