Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Impossibilities

I never really bought into the whole Santa thing.  I don't know how much my parents really pulled for the old guy, but I know they put some effort into it.  We had a tradition where Santa would bring us new pajamas on Christmas Eve, and then we'd wear them that night and have cute new pajamas to take Christmas morning pictures in.  And Mom and Dad told me that Santa had come in after I was asleep to kiss me good night.  Honestly, that freaked me out a little.  I was mainly concerned that his beard had scratched my face.  Were there cookie crumbs stuck in that beard?  Had he kissed Rudolph with the same mouth he kissed me?  Did I have reindeer cooties?  Shudder.

And I don't know how old I was when I stopped buying into the whole flying reindeer gig, but I don't think I was very old.  I mean, I didn't OFFICIALLY stop believing until I was well into elementary school, but I had my suspicions all along.  Our house didn't have a chimney.  I never heard sleigh bells or reindeer on the roof.  One time I *thought* I saw Rudolph's glowing nose, but even then I had some suspicions that it was just the neighbor across the street backing out of her driveway.  And there were too many rumors floating around that he wasn't real, that moms and dads were responsible for putting out all those toys.  And I guess it all made sense.  So when I was about eight or nine and heard mom sneak into my room at night to put Bonnie Bell lip gloss in the stocking at the end of my bed, I was just sort of relieved to know it had all been a big joke.  I never saw it as a lie; I saw it as a joke.  Ha ha.  Flying reindeer.  Fat guy in a sleigh!  A clever deception indeed!

Some of my friends, however, cried when they discovered Santa wasn't real.  I mean, I've got a great imagination and all, but I couldn't understand how they had gotten SO caught up in the Santa game.  Maybe their parents had made a bigger deal out of him or something, I don't know.  All I know is that I didn't understand how anyone could be THAT duped by such a crazy story.

But when you really think about it, Christmas is kind of a crazy story.  Most people have heard it so many times that it actually becomes boring, or at least unremarkable.  We see the plays with Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus in the manger.  We hear of the Inn Keeper turning the "great with child" mother away.  We read about the angels telling the shepherds about Jesus.  The wise men go to see him.  Blah blah.  Great story.  Now lets have a "Happy Birthday Jesus" cake and open some presents.

It's easy to get that way.  I mean, how many times have you read (or at least heard) this Scripture:

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David;  and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.  And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  (Luke 1:30-37)

It's easy to skip over it without really thinking--because I, like a lot of my readers, have probably read or heard this passage a bazgillion times since childhood.  But here's the thing.  To my knowledge, I've never been visited by an angel (I don't think).  And if I've entertained any angels unaware, none of them have had a message like this for me.  Do you get what the angel said to Mary?  "You will bear a son who will be called the Son of the Most High, and God will give Him David's throne, and He will reign over Jacob forever, and His Kingdom will never end."  Gabriel is pretty much telling Mary who this child is--the one spoken of in Prophecy.  The heir promised to David, the ruler over all Israel, the Everlasting Ruler, the Messiah!  

Mary's response is interesting.  I don't know if she really heard all of what the angel Gabriel told her.  I mean,  she was probably still kind of in shock that an angel had visited her at all.  And what he said wasn't making any sense.  She couldn't even wrap her brain around his words.  She didn't ask about the Messiah.  She didn't marvel that the Prophecy was going to be fulfilled through her.  She asked a very basic question about a very practical issue.  It didn't concern the redemption of mankind or the changing of the world.  It just involved her.  "How am I going to have a son when I haven't had sex?"  

She missed the bigger picture, and you know, I figure most of us would have reacted in a similar way.  Well, actually, most of us would have probably figured we were hallucinating or something.  Because people don't see angels.  God doesn't speak to His people in that way.  Most of us couldn't even believe something like that, let alone the real weightiness of what Gabriel came to say.  Most of us couldn't believe that God, God Almighty, the One against whom we had rebelled, was coming down in flesh, fully man, born as men are born, in the womb of a woman.

And all Mary could do was say, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

But I imagine that when the initial shock wore off, she started wondering why God had chosen her.  She must have known that God didn't need her.  In order to accomplish the act of coming down to us in human form, God did require a womb--but why Mary's womb?  He could have chosen anyone.  He chose her, a woman who was simply willing to accept the ridiculousness of what He had chosen to do.  

And what of Joseph, Mary's betrothed?  

When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.  But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)

Angels AND dreams??  It's easy to read about this story as if it were completely unremarkable, but how would you react if you heard a man say that he had a dream about an angel?  And what a weird message?  If  I heard a man say, "I had a dream about an angel.  The angel told me my betrothed was pregnant, but it's okay, because the Holy Spirit is the baby daddy.  So I'm just going to take her as my wife," well, I'd figure this guy was delusional or otherwise trying to cover up his own baby-daddy-ness.

And these weren't the only dreams Joseph had about angels.  He had another telling him to flee to Egypt, and another telling him it was safe to return from Egypt and ANOTHER telling him to go to Galilee.  What's with all the famous Biblical Josephs being dreamers?  

Oh, and the Wise Men had some weird angel dreams, too.  The angel told them not to go back to Herod after they saw Jesus.  But these guys had spent a great deal of time staring at the stars, and they were even crazy enough to follow one.  In fact, the Scriptures say that they were OVERJOYED to see this star, this sign that they believed would lead them to a child, to a king, to a Messiah.  We read it like it's unremarkable, but WISE men putting all their hope in a star?  Is that unremarkable?

And let's not forget the shepherds, the ones who had obviously been out watching their sheep a little too long...

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;  for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:8-14)

It's interesting that these angels said what the first angel said to Mary and what the angel said to Joseph in his dream: Don't be afraid.  I think it might be because, duh, most people would be pretty frightened if an angel appeared to them.  But when the angel appeared to Mary and when the angel appeared to the shepherds and when the angel appeared to Joseph, every time the angel explained WHY they shouldn't be afraid.  To Mary: "Don't be afraid, FOR you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and bear a Son, and you will name Him Jesus.  He will be great and He will be called Son of the Most High."  To Joseph: "Don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife FOR the child in her is conceived of the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son and you will name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."  To the shepherds: "Don't be afraid, FOR I bring you good news of great joy, for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

While, yes, I'm sure the angels were a little frightening, I don't think that's why they said, "Don't be afraid."  There was something deeper there.  Because ever since Adam and Eve sinned and invited sinfulness into the world, there has been a need to hide our nakedness and shame.  Yet the wonderful, crazy, ridiculous miracle of Christmas is that we don't have to hide anymore.  God Himself has come down to be with us, to take our humanity and shamefulness upon Himself.  He was born as a baby (in a stable, in a feeding trough--which is another remarkable aspect of the Christmas story that we've grown immune to), He lived as a man, He died as a sacrifice, and He rose again as the conquering King.  

When you think of all the strange things of Christmas, the characters who saw angels and dreamed dreams, all of that pales in comparison to the absolute insanity of a Father who loved His sinful creation enough to become like order that we could become like Him.

Flying reindeer and magic sleighs are impossible, but they don't seem nearly as crazy as the real Christmas story.  

God with us?  Emmanuel?  

Now THAT's impossible.

Yet, the angel told Mary that nothing is impossible with God.

And I, like Mary, like Joseph, like the shepherds and the wise men and all the other crazy people in the Christmas story...

...I believe.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Joy of Getting

I wrote this as part of a blog post near the beginning of September last year.  I was thinking about it and wanted to share it again:

So what is the main reason why I love Christmas? Is it the music? Is it the food? Is it the weather (I actually hate cold and snow, unless it's at Christmas!)? Is it the movies? Is it something I inherited from my grandmother, who LOVED Christmas and celebrated it all year long?

What's the Sunday School answer here? What am I supposed to say? I'm supposed to say, "I love Christmas because it's Jesus' birthday!" But...that's not the main reason why I love Christmas. Why? I guess it's because I'm selfish.

When I was about four years old, my mom told me something I never forgot. She probably doesn't even remember saying this, but I remember it vividly. I was unwrapping Christmas presents at my grandparents' house on Christmas afternoon. I'd already gotten the "Santa haul" from home, and now it was time to get the "relatives' haul." I remember the scene very clearly. I was sitting on the floor by the ottoman of the chair by the sliding glass door that overlooked the front porch. One or two of their seventy bazgillion feral cats (they lived out in the country) were probably out on that porch, looking through that door at me, trying to soak in some of the indoor warmth through the glass. I had just opened my last present, and was surrounded by boxes, toys, wrapping paper, and the comic strips my aunt used to wrap presents in. And I turned to my mom and said something. I don't remember what I said, but her response was unforgettable. I was either complaining about how I didn't have any more presents or bragging about how much I'd gotten or something like that, and my mom said something profound. She said, "Ruth, the older you get, the more you're going to want to give things than get things."

I remember that so clearly because it was impossible for my four year old brain to understand that logic. What? How could I EVER be happier giving than getting? Getting stuff is AWESOME; giving stuff means I'll...have to sacrifice. Sacrifice doesn't make sense to most four year olds. In fact, it doesn't make much sense to most adults, either.

And maybe I should be ashamed of myself for admitting this, but my favorite part about Christmas is still NOT about what I give. It's still about what I get. The difference between the four year old me and the thirty-one year old me is that I'm no longer so tremendously excited about getting stuff. The most important part of Christmas is that God gave Himself to me. And I guess that does make me selfish, but the fact is, I need to be selfish, here. I need God. I don't always understand sacrifice, but God understands it well. Giving, love, sacrifice, mercy--that's kind of what He's about. So I do get excited about receiving Him, all the while praising Him for being the holy and righteous Giver, both just and merciful. It takes a certain degree of humility to realize that we don't really have anything to give. We can't be the Giver. But there can be so much joy in taking what we're offered, and God offers what we need. And Christmas is the celebration of the culmination of all the promises of God, which came in the form of a weak, human baby. No...I don't really think I understand the concept of sacrifice at all.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Impromptu Prayer Closet

My new roommate should be moving in, in about a week or so.  While that’s a cause for much celebration on the whole financial side of life, it’s been a big source of stress to me for the past couple of weeks.  Instead of being wise and just staying in the room I’d been living in, I decided I had too much space (and too much junk to fill that space), and I moved into the smaller bedroom.  Of course, I did this a few months ago, which meant the larger bedroom in my apartment (which was never really properly cleaned anyway) became a large storage area.  So for the past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to clean the disastrous mess.  And since I had no room to put things, my current bedroom (the whole rest of the apartment, really) has become a veritable maze of boxes, bags, and general chaotic MESS.
I finally inched my way through most of the mess in my old room, the large room.  I was dreading the final step: the CLOSET.  This closet is what most people would consider small, but dude, when I moved into this apartment after having to live in the Seminary dorms (I’m convinced those dorms are intended for single ladies who are going into missions in foreign lands—they prepare you for ANYTHING) for a year and a half (not to mention the college dorms I’d lived in earlier), that closet might as well have been a portal to Narnia.  It’s only a walk-in closet in a technical sense, but it’s the biggest closet I’d ever really had.  And in the six years that I had access to that closet, I trashed it.  This is what I do when I have too much space (and too much junk to fill that space).  I trash it.  Hence my desire for smaller space and less stuff.

 Well, I finally made my way to the closet.  I basically took a trash bag (or seven) and tossed most of the memorabilia I’d been saving for God only knows what reason.  I’m not sure why I thought I was going to treasure that ticket stub to Harry Potter 4 forever and ever, but now that thing is in the dumpster where it belongs—along with a lot of other junk I have no idea why I was keeping.

I got to the bottom of the mess and finally only had a few stray items lingering on the floor.  I saw a journal and figured it was either full of emo drivel from college, or it was one with clean pages I had not yet tainted with my current emo drivel.

 But when I opened it, I had to laugh—not in that “oh my gosh look how emo my drivel was” sort of way, but in a pleasant sort of way.  It was a “journal” I’d written before and during my two-week mission trip to Thailand back in the summer of 2007.  I know I’ve grown a LOT since then (not physically—I’ve actually shrunk physically.  My pants from back then would almost fit two of the current me), but it’s interesting how the things I was learning then are things that encourage me now.

 I’ve been so stressed out this week.  It’s not just been the CHAOS of trying to find room for things that I deem more important than old movie ticket stubs.  It’s been everything.  I’ve been cranky at work—at ALL my jobs.  I told one of my co-workers, “I JUST WANT A REAL JOB!” And the way I said it reeked of hopelessness…and just general whininess.

 I don’t have health insurance.  I should be thankful I’m healthy (the phlebotomists from my friendly neighborhood American Red Cross keep taking my blood, so apparently there aren’t any red flags popping up in their system—so I take that to mean I’m not dying of anything…besides life, which eventually kills us all—and in a blog full of unnecessary and rambling parenthetical statements, this is probably the most unnecessary and rambling of them all).  I don’t have a nine-to-five job with predictable hours.  I should be thankful I’m able to have and keep multiple jobs that I like—in an economy where a lot of people are out of work altogether.  I don’t have a rich husband.  I should be thankful I’m able to make a peanut butter sandwich for dinner and not have to worry about feeding my rich husband his fancy-schmancy rich people food.  Okay, so if I had a rich husband, I’d hire a cook to make us fancy-schmancy rich people food, but I digress.

 The thing is, while reading that old journal, I came across some really encouraging, really true stuff.  I reminded myself 1) of God’s faithfulness,  2) that I don’t have anything to prove to anyone,  3) that it doesn’t matter if I fail; God will not fail.

 And as I was reading it, a playlist was playing on my borrowed, obsolete laptop (which, incidentally, I’m grateful to have at my disposal).  I had forgotten it was on, since I was so engrossed in the things I’d written in that journal.  But the words of one particular song seemed to get louder, demanding my attention:

 And if you are wondering if I’m around,
I have never left your side. 
You are never by yourself. 
No you are not alone tonight. 
So, now don’t you let your heart be troubled. 
The peace I bring to you is not of this world. 
I set your mind at ease. 
I quiet down your soul. 
I give you peace. 
Don’t let your heart be troubled.
(from “Don’t Let Your Heart Be Troubled” by Mitch McVicker)

 I’ve been so overwhelmed by fears of the future.  And by that I mean both big and small things.  Like, I’m afraid of dealing with simple things like getting rid of the excessive furniture in my apartment (the new roommate has nicer stuff).  I don’t even have a working camera so I can put pictures up on Craigslist.  But I’ve arranged to borrow a camera.  If need be, I can suck it up and get a storage unit for a while until I figure things out.  Basically—I need to chill out about the small things and remember my new mantra: IT IS WHAT IT IS.

 For the bigger things, well, hmm.  The former me preached a small sermon to the current me through the pages of that old journal.  I was talking about all the talents God’s given me and all the things people have tried to get me to pursue with those talents.  And I wrote something about how all of my talents can be used to entertain and teach children, and how awesome of an opportunity it is to get to help shape their little hearts and minds.  And I wrote about how my having a real job would just be a crime, because after all, I’m a free (indeed) spirit.

 I have no idea what the future will bring.  This year has brought so much change, and it’s going to bring more.  And you know what, next year will bring a lot of change, too, because change happens constantly.  I don’t like change.  I like to hold on to things like ticket stubs or whatever because I don’t like moving forward.  But sometimes you just have to get in that closet and dig through the junk of the past—and just accept that life isn’t what it used to be.  It is what it is.  And sometimes the things that really matter from the past will sneak up on you when you least expect it and remind you of the things that are important.

 My little (sort-of) walk-in closet (AKA currently inactive Narnia portal) became something I didn’t expect tonight.  In the midst of the chaos I was dreading, I found some unexpected peace.  And my closet became a prayer closet as I allowed the presence of God to calm me, to remind me that I’m His.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Never too Small

One of the greatest things about babysitting for families that go to my church is that when the kids see me on Sunday morning, it’s like I’m a celebrity.  Sometimes the kids run up and hug me, which is awesome.  It’s also awesome when they see me and hide behind their parents, saying in an awe-struck voice, “Look, Mommy!  It’s Miss Ruth.”  Then they smile shyly and wave at me, as if I’m just too amazing for them to approach.  Sometimes kids I watch see and hear me sing in the church choir or on praise team, and sometimes that really makes me seem like a celebrity to them.  But I’m not up there to be seen or heard.  In fact, up until these past few months, I’ve really had some mixed feelings about singing in front of people.
I know my voice is pretty good.  I also know that I can’t take any credit for that.  My voice isn’t something I created within myself.  And even though I’ve been blessed to be a part some pretty amazing choirs over the years, I can’t even claim that I’ve studied voice or music all that intensively.  So I know very well that my voice is another gift for which I can’t take credit.  But for several years, I feared that I would become vain or egotistical or self-conscious, etc., if I showed anyone that I had any real vocal talent.  I love to sing and to praise God through music, but I didn’t want worship to become tainted in any way.  And so I sang in choir and did what I was told—if I knew there was really a need for me to help out on a vocal team or if someone asked me to sing a solo, I’d do it.  The principle behind that was that I was serving by doing something that was needed and not just singing because I thought I had something worth sharing.

I really believe that’s what God wanted for me then.  I don’t think there was anything sinful with me taking care to ensure that my worship was as pure as possible.  But in the past several months, there’s been a shift in my attitude towards worship—and not just singing or music.  God’s been showing me that if He’s given me gifts, He’s given them to me for a reason.  I don’t have to be afraid to share those gifts because they don’t really belong to me. I still want to be careful that the focus of worship is always on God, but it’s time that I use the gifts He’s given—not so I’ll shine, but so that I’ll reflect His light.
So lately, I’ve been singing in public a lot—and the kids I watch have taken notice.

The other day in church, I saw one of the girls I had watched during the week.  Her face lit up when she saw me, and she exclaimed, “MISS RUTH!” I told her how pretty her dress was, and she smiled.  Then she asked in an awe-struck voice, “Are you going to sing again this morning?”
I knew what she meant.  She was asking if I was going to be up on the stage with a microphone in my hand.  As a matter of fact, I was on praise team that morning, but my reply to her would have been the same even if I were just sitting on a chair in the congregation.  “Oh, yes!  I’m going to sing! I love to sing!” I said.  Then I asked her, “Are you going to sing?”
She shook her head as if I’d said something ridiculous.  “NOO!  I’m too little to sing!”

I said, “Girl, you can never be too little to sing!”
And after the service I saw her and asked her if she had sung.  She said, “I only knew one of the songs, but I sang it!”  That made my heart smile.

Later on that same afternoon, I decided to watch “The Nativity Story.”  I had ordered it in the mail for cheap and it had just arrived a few days earlier, so naturally, because it was new, I wanted to open it up and watch it immediately.  That’s how I roll. 
I was watching the movie, the retelling of Christ’s birth and the surrounding circumstances, marveling once more in how the God of the universe came down in the form of a human—and not just any human.  He was a weak and needy baby, born not of a wealthy queen, but a lowly carpenter’s wife.  God chose for His fleshly introduction to take place in a stable, with shepherds as His first visitors. 

As I was watching the dramatized events unfold, I kept thinking about what the angels told the shepherds.  “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men on whom His favor rests.”  A repeated theme in the movie was that Jesus came for the wise ruler and the poor slave.  And it occurred to me, again, that all of humanity is in the same state.  We’re all wretches.  We’re all slaves.  We’re all in need of God’s salvation.  And none of us can claim any talent or worth of our own.
None of us can claim glory—even though we try.  None of us are worthy of it.  Yet God desires us, from the richest to the poorest, to give Him glory.

If you know me well or if you’ve been reading my blog since last Christmas, you might remember that every Christmas season, I choose a word to describe the focus I wish to have for the upcoming year.  And if you know me well or if you’ve been reading my blog since last autumn, you might remember that my Christmas season begins somewhere around September.  As soon as I start seeing pumpkins and falling leaves, I start thinking about Christmas.  So even if everyone else is still in Halloween mode, I’m already thinking about Christmas and for my focus for the upcoming year.
In the past, the words I focused on were Joy, Peace, and Hope.  I thought about how these elements played into the Christmas story—about how the Magi saw the Star, the sign of the fulfilled promise, and rejoiced with exceeding joy.  I thought about how God had come down to us in order to make peace with us—to us who had rebelled against Him.  I thought about Hope, about how depraved and dark and worthless we all would be if God had not provided Himself to be our salvation.  I thought about how amazing and hopeful life is with Christ and with all His glorious promises. 

This is the year of Hope.  I’ve had some pretty cool victories this year.  I’ve had some failures.  Many things have changed.  Some things haven’t.  Some things have been hard.  Some things have hurt.  And yet, even in the midst of the seasonal depression that attacks me every fall, I can’t help but look around me and think, “God is working in me and through me and He is about to do something amazing in my life that is beyond my wildest dreams.”  Hope.  It’s not just a feeling or a wish.  It’s something tangible.  And this has truly been my year of Hope.  I’ve learned to Hope in Christ and not in myself.  Yes, that’s going to continue to be a lesson.  It’s a lifelong lesson.  But in the past few months, God’s changed my way of thinking, and I finally GET IT that it’s not me, but Him working through me.  And I’m so excited about what He’s going to do with me and the talents He’s given me.  One thing is for sure, I can’t keep them to myself anymore.  It wasn’t a sin to hide them then, but it would be now.  It’s not time to shine—it’s time to reflect the One who shines.
Which (finally) brings me to my point.  It’s close enough to Christmas that I feel as though I can announce my word for 2013.  I’ve actually known it since Christmas last year, but I wanted to be sure.  And, well, I am sure.  I don’t think I could really understand Hope until I could understand Peace.  And I don’t think I could really understand Peace until I could understand Joy (as much as I can really understand any of those things).  And this next Christmas season, this next year (my years run from Christmas to Christmas—I’m only a week off from the rest of the world, so back off!  :-P), my word, my focus is going to be something I couldn’t understand until I had a general grasp of Hope, Peace, and Joy.

To be honest, I really don’t know what this word means.  I’m not sure that I ever will.  I plan on learning a little more about it—maybe reading some books, such as The Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis.  I have done some minimal research just by looking the word up in some basic reference materials.  The dictionary wasn’t really helpful.  The idea of Glory is too weighty to be encompassed in a few words on a page.  I also looked in the thesaurus.  At first, this didn’t seem very helpful, either.  It seemed that every synonym the thesaurus provided only scratched the surface of what Glory really means.  But when I read the antonyms, I realized something.

Baseness.  Meanness.  These are antonyms to the word “glory.”  When I see these words, I don’t just think about lowly things, I think about the lowest possible things.  Base.  Mean.  Small.  Insignificant.  Worthless.  Depraved.  And if the lowest possible things are referred to by a word that means the opposite of Glory, then Glory must refer to the highest possible thing.  Something complete.  Something big.  Something so beyond comprehension by someone base like me.
This past year, God has taught me much.  I’ve had a lot of remarkable opportunities to share my talents with others, and I believe there are going to be more opportunities to come.  I believe God is doing something with me that I can’t possibly imagine, something wonderful, something good.  Whether it's big or small, it's going to be His work, and I'm blessed to be part of it.  I believe He’s doing this in me now because I’ve finally learned the things He’s been teaching me, which will provide the basis for things He wants to teach me in the future.  And I’m ready to learn.  I’m ready to give, knowing that nothing I has is mine to give anyway.  It’s His.  He’s just given it to me for me to use for His Glory. 

The thing is, we’re all really little.  We’re all base.  But God came down to us as a weak, lowly infant.  He knew we could never come to Him, so He came to us.  He knew we could never be like Him, and so He became like us.  He came to make Peace with us.  He came to bring us Hope.  He came so that we could have Joy.  And He deserves the Glory, and He desires us to give Glory to Him, and He enables us to give Glory to Him.

Because it doesn’t matter how small we are. 

            We’re never too small to sing. 



Friday, October 12, 2012

Stinkin Thinkin Starts Young

There's child  I know that really is a happy child.  He knows how to play with toys and have fun with friends.  He has smiled and laughed in my presence.  He has danced to music and has played outside on the slide.  These wonderful moments have to be caught here and there, because while this child has moments of being happy, most of the time he cries.

Even though this child is really young, I've been able to see what's going on inside his head.  The child will start to allow himself to play and have fun, but then will remind himself that he doesn't want to be there.  He will remind himself that he would rather be with Mommy.  He will remind himself that he doesn't feel comfortable.  He might even be feeling guilty that he's enjoying things away from home.

And as a childcare provider, I have to keep gently reminding him that he's safe, that he's in a place where he's loved, that his friends are all having fun and that he can have fun, too.  I have to try to communicate to him that his neagtive thoughts aren't reasonable.

But as a human, I realize that I'm too much like that child.  I'll allow little things to gnaw at me, bringing on guilt and shame that really isn't at all reasonable.  I'll allow myself to get overwhelmed by things that aren't really that big of a deal.  I'll start looking around at what others have, and I'll start wondering what must be wrong with me if I don't also have those things.  And like that child I know, I'll rob myself of joy by letting myself get into the "stinkin thinkin" mindset.

I'm not sure who originally coined the phrase "stinkin thinkin," but I'll always remember it as being a trademark statement from one of my college professors, who was also my work study boss.  This man was one-of-a-kind.  He would come in from teaching, and I'd be grading papers.  He'd be singing some song about his sweetheart and put my name into it, then he'd look at me and say, "How are you today, love?  You aren't doing any of that stinkin thinkin, are you?"

And I'd say no, but in college, I figure "stinkin thinkin" was about all I did.  I'm probably going to always struggle with anxiety on some level, but in college it was pretty bad.  So I got a bunch of magic markers (I've said it before and I'll say it again, what's so magical about them?) and some cardstock, and I wrote Philippians 4:6-7 on it.  Then I hung it over my bed as a reminder to not be so anxious.  That's a pretty popular passage, but I'll post it here, along with the surrounding verses:

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things."

This is a great passage, but lately I've found myself drawn less to verses 6-7, and more towards verse 8. 

There are so many things in this world that call for our attention and our thoughts.  And if I let myself believe all the lies of Satan--that I have to be perfect, that mistakes aren't tolerable, that people don't really know or love me, that I have to create my own worth apart from Christ...then I'll let myself get stuck in the trap of believing I'll never be good enough, and that there's no hope.

Satan is clever in that he gives us half-truths.  The thing is, I really never will be good enough.  But...there is SO much hope.  I don't have to be good enough.  My worth is in Christ.  And if I daily renew my mind, thinking, dwelling on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, the things that are excellent and worthy of praise--then I'm not going to have room for Satan's lies.  Not even his half-truths.

If I'm honest with myself, the times when I allow myself to get the most depressed are the times when I'm most focused on myself.  There's not too much about  me that's excellent or praise-worthy.  It's when I dwell on serving others, on worshipping God, that I am most honoring to His Kingdom. 

The child in my class is learning that it's okay to think about good things.  I, too, am learning to remind myself of the truth, so I can leave that stinkin thinkin behind.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Good to Be Alive

(Edit: The song in the video at the end of this blog is available (for the week of 9/18/12) for free download at

So still no internet at my apartment.  I really don't know WHEN that's going to happen, and honestly, I'm not worried about it.  I'm not worried about much of anything right now.  Maybe I should be, especially when I'm pretty much broke and don't know if I'll be able to keep paying my rent.  I'm just kind of at the place where I figure that if financial problems are my biggest problems, then I'm probably doing pretty well.  And even if I have to learn to function without stable internet access in a world that is run by people who have CONSTANT connections to their portable interwebz devices, well, I figure I might even have it better off than a lot of them.  And it's not like I'm destitute.  I drive down the road in a car that does what I want it to most of the time.  Some of my friends have to take the bus just to get to work.  And I could talk about the people who don't even have enough to eat, who live in slavery, etc.  Really, I've got it pretty dang good. 

But even with my current financial problems, I spent a relatively large sum of money on something nonessential the other day.  Lately, I've been really inspired by a lot of songs on KLOVE.  The most recent?  A song by Jason Gray called, "Good to Be Alive."  It's just a song of gratitude and praise--a song that focuses on how much God has given us, and how our response should be to give Him a "life well lived."  As I was listening to it one day, I thought, "This song really speaks to me.  A lot of songs speak to me.  And I have a lot of songs that I've written.  They aren't brilliant at all, but they're songs God's given me to write.  Why in the world am I not doing anything with them, especially when I know God wants me to do something with them."

I'm doing something with them now--taken a few beginning steps.  I've got a lot to learn and a lot to do, but I'm really hopeful that God's going to do some good things in me and through me. 

Anyway, just last week, I heard an announcement on KLOVE that Jason Gray was going to be playing a concert at a church about 45 minutes from where I live.  I don't believe in coincidence, and I knew that I was meant to go to that concert.  But...I had to work the night of the concert.  The concert wasn't expensive, but when I'm counting every single penny, it was more than I could really afford.  So the grown up in me said "You can't go" to the kid in me.

The thing is, the other local Christian radio station started announcing the concert, too.   Every time I turned on the radio, one of Jason Gray's songs was playing.  And I still knew I was meant to go to that concert. 

The day before the concert, I decided that if I didn't try to go, I'd be kicking myself later.  I made some phone calls and really had NO resistence in finding someone to cover my Saturday night shift.  And Saturday night shifts are the least desirable and almost impossible to get covered--especially last minute.  I sucked it up and spent the money on the concert.  And I went to hear Jason Gray sing.

The concert was more like a worship service than anything else.  I was standing there all alone--I couldn't find anyone to go with me, and really, I think that's how it was supposed to be.  Because I was in a room full of complete strangers, yet we were all pulled together by the words God had given Jason Gray to sing.  We were all pulled together by the unity of Christ.  I didn't know a soul in that room, but we were all sisters and brothers, worshipping together.  It was beautiful and freeing.  And during the intermission, I found myself jotting down potential song lyrics--because creativity breeds creativity.  And why shouldn't it?  God created us.  God inspires us to create, too.  I think the best music is the kind that makes me want to sing; the best story is the kind that makes me want to go write.

And after the concert, I spent even more money on a cd--just because Jason Gray's music is honest and inspiring--and I couldn't leave there without it.  Then I went up to where Jason Gray was signing autographs and I shook the man's hand.  I had a brief conversation with him--probably telling him things everyone tells him.  I don't know if I encouraged him at all, but I know I left there encouraged.

Right now, things are good.  I'm broke and still trying to figure out how to stay organized in my jobs...but life is so good.  I've been given so much.  And, yeah, I'm just grateful for the opporutnitiesI have to give, too.  It is good to be alive. 

...and this video is AWESOME:

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Summer Update # Whatever This Is: It IS What It IS

Summer doesn’t officially end until near the end of September, but I don’t think a lot of people around here actually pay attention to such trivial things as the autumnal equinox. No, here seasons are defined by what is happening with school. When school starts, it’s no longer summer. It’s fall. And when kids stop talking about turkeys and start talking about snowmen, then it’s no longer fall. It’s winter. And when kids stop wishing for snow days and start talking about Easter Egg hunts, then it’s spring. And when school gets out, even though it’s technically still spring, people say it’s summer. So the calendar isn’t the boss anymore. Since the girls I watch a few afternoons a week have already begun the new school year, and since I’ve been planning for preschool all week, I guess I’m going to have to admit that the summer is gone. But since my first day of preschool isn’t until next week, I’m still calling this summer.

I didn’t update as much as I wanted to this summer. I still don’t have internet access at my apartment, and really, I’m not sure when that’s going to change. So even though the summer is over, I’m still not going to have a regular blogging schedule for a while. And that’s okay, because even if it’s not still summer, I’m still sort of in a summer frame of mind. And this summer was a summer of change. I’m still going through some transition. I figured I’d be through it already, but you know, I have no idea how long things are going to be changing. And really, when do things ever stop changing anyway?

I still need to find a roommate (or two). There still needs to be some work done (both cleaning and repair work) on the apartment, so I’m not sure when I’ll be able to advertise for a roommate. I have to pay rent in a few days, and I’m going to have to go further into debt in order to do that. I worried about it for a few hours, and then realized that worrying isn’t going to fix it.

I wanted to get a new teaching assistant job this school year. I wanted the security of a full time job. I wanted the pay rate of a full time job. I wanted health insurance. I wanted to stop doing so many jobs so I could have more time to write and do other things. Well, the teaching assistant job didn’t happen. Part of my problem is that I waited too long to apply, and part of my problem was that I didn’t go out and try to sell myself to the many schools in the area, and part of my problem is that I really just don’t think it was meant to be right now. So I’m going to keep working four jobs that pull me in different directions and often don’t give me the hours or income I need. I worried about it for a while, and then realized that worrying isn’t going to change anything.

I realized that since I waited so long to figure out stuff about a teaching assistant job, I wasn’t putting in as much effort as I needed to on my preschool job. I’m lead teacher this year, and while it’s not a huge deal, it does require quite a bit more responsibility than being just a preschool assistant teacher. I didn’t worry about this; I freaked out about it. And part of that was because I was still wanting to worry about finances and roommate situations and change change change. Then I threw some tantrums, calmed down, threw some more tantrums, calmed down, and realized that I was in a cycle of throwing tantrums and calming down. And to quote my friend Bonnie, I finally realized I just needed to CALM DOWN.

I tend to be an emotional person (no, really, you hadn’t noticed?), but lately things were just roller coastering out of control. And the other day when I was having a really good morning and something very small threatened to ruin my whole day, I had to ask myself why I was so upset over it. Satan’s been attacking me on an emotional level, and I finally told him to STOP IT. The thing about Satan is, he’s powerful, but for the Christian, he only has as much power as we give him. And I wasn’t going to give him any more power.

So I’ve adopted a new philosophy that’s really going to have to get me through this time of change: It is what it is, and what I can do is what I can do.

It’s not that I’m just throwing in the towel and saying that it doesn’t matter. What I’m saying is that worrying doesn’t do any good. It is what it is, and what I can do is what I can do. But it isn’t really all that bad when I think of how bad others have it, and I can actually do a lot if I stop whining about it and just do it. The preschool stuff is still going to take some responsibility, but if I just sit down and do it, one step at a time, it’s not hard. It just takes some work. Honestly, I could use something to force me to be organized. My finances are seriously messed up and I don’t know if my jobs are going to pay for everything that I need—especially since I still don’t have a roommate and don’t exactly know when I’m getting one. But now that I’ve moved all my stuff into the smaller room in my apartment, so that I can offer the larger room to a potential roommate or two, I’ve managed to simplify “my space” in a way that will actually be a lot more comfortable and functional for me. And God knows my job situations. He’s promised that if I seek Him and His Kingdom first, then all the other things I need will be provided. And if I stop worrying and thinking about myself, I can see that there are so many reasons why He still has me in the places where I am. There are people I can minister to in my secular jobs. There are children I can love on and coworkers to encourage in all of my jobs. There are people at all my jobs who are like family to me, and honestly, if I had left them, it would have broken my heart.

And one day I probably will leave these jobs, and if I do, it will break my heart. Because change is both good and bad. And sometimes change doesn’t look like how you expected it to look. And sometimes change takes longer than you think it will. But there are always things to be learned through it. And I should have known this season of change would be harder than I imagined it would—because I obviously need a lot of lessons.

I still don’t know what this year is going to bring. I do still believe that there is something amazing waiting for me on the other side of all this change. I do still believe there is much for which to hope. I do still believe that God is working all things together for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose. I do still believe that even in the midst of financial problems and change, I am richly, deeply blessed. I do still believe that the fall, whenever it actually comes, is going to be a time of harvest. I do still believe that He’s doing something with me. I do still believe that He’s using me to bring His love to others. And if this change is something that will more greatly enable Him to work through me, then who am I to complain?

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Sometimes we struggle with knowing God’s will. We want to know His plans, all cleanly laid out, for the next decade of our lives. But the thing is, we already do know God’s will. He wants us to seek Him. He wants us to read His Word, pray, get to know His heart. He wants us to love one another. He wants us to look outside of ourselves and see what needs to be done where we are. And when I stop throwing tantrums and finally do just CALM DOWN, I can stop worrying about me me me, and start seeing others as God sees them. I can start seeing situations as God sees them. It’s funny, but when I stop focusing on myself, I can actually start seeing how God sees me.

I spent a lot of my younger years trying to shine. I failed a lot. I kept trying to cause myself to shine. But we aren’t meant to be able to shine. We’re just meant to reflect. We’re meant to reflect the One who shines. Then, only then, can we shine, too.

My reflections are still poor, but I’m learning.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Summer Update #2: Lessons from the Dog

I'm not exactly a dog person.  I love dogs, and pretty much any furry animal...that's not a tarantula...but I'm more of a cat person.  Cats are more my speed.  Feed them, give them water, give them a poo box.  That's all they need, really.  I mean, some of them are needier than others, but I've never really felt guilty about leaving a cat to fend for itself for a few hours.  Dogs?  They're always giving me guilt trips.

I've done some dog sitting this summer for a really awesome doggie named Max.  Max is a Schnoodle.  I love the Schnauzer in him; the poodle?  Well, hmm, yeah, I love the Schnauzer in him. 

I've dog sat many times before for a German Shepherd.  The main difference between a German Shepherd and a Schnoodle is that a Schnoodle could easily be carried off and eaten by a large carnivorous bird, whereas a German Shepherd might only be easily carried off and eaten by a large carnivorous dinosaur.  And given that difference, I'm pretty sure that Max has every right to be a scaredy-pup.  And he is.

I had to leave Max in his cage for a few hours yesterday while I went to work, and I felt guilty about it.  And then I felt even guiltier about it because it started thundering and I was worried that would freak him out.  I kept thinking about him barking every time it thundered--trying to chew through the bars of his cage.  But...when I got back to the house, he was fine, of course.  He was just really happy to see me.

The thing is, if I could talk to Max and make him understand me, I wouldn't have to feel so guilty.  I could tell him, "Hey, little guy, I'm going to go to work and be gone for a few hours. I'll be back around 11," then he'd know not to worry.  But no matter how much I tell him that "I'll be home when the clock's little hand is on the 11 and the big hand is on the 12," he can't understand me.  Cuz he's a dog.

So when I put Max in his cage and leave the house, he was either going to trust that I or someone else is eventually going to come back and take care of him, or he was going to freak out a lot until someone actually did come back and take care of him.  And I don't watch him when I'm not there...for obvious reasons...but I do know that when I come back, even if I've only left the house to take trash out, he's always OVERJOYED to see me.  I'm not sure if that's because he really thinks that no one was ever going to come, or if he just loves me that much.  It might be a little bit of both. 

But I found myself telling Max, "You silly lil scaredy pup, don't you know I love you?  Of course I was coming back to take care of you."

And I started thinking how silly I can be sometimes.  I know that God loves me.  I know He's going to take care of me because He does love me.  So when life is chaotic and I can't see what God's doing, I can either choose to freak out or to trust Him. 

Tomorrow I'm turning in that application I've had forever.  Then I'm going to try sending out some resumes and see what happens.  If anything does, I'll be slightly less cryptic about it.  If not, I'll just keep working my 15 kazbillion four jobs and struggling to make ends meet.  Right now, the thought of doing that for another year kind of makes me want to chew through the bars of a cage, but if that's what happens--it's going to be all right.  I'm a silly lil scaredy pup, too, but I don't think I'm going to be carried off and eaten by any large carnivorous birds anytime soon....

There are still so many changes going on in my life--my fridge was in my living room for a while, but that's a different blog post, lol.  More friends have moved away, but other relationships have deepened.  God has been giving me so much blessing--blessing I know I'm not at all meant to keep to myself.  I know He's going to provide more because there's so much He's doing in my life, and so much He wants me to do--participating, coming alongside Him in the work that He's doing.  I just have to trust and wait, wait and trust, trust and wait...  You'd think I'd be an expert at that, but apparently I'm a silly lil scaredy kid who still has a lot to learn.

You know what, though?  I'm kind of enjoying the lessons.  ...Most of the time.  Lol.  There's definitely mercy in the struggle.  And I am very blessed.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Summer Update #1: No Longer Afraid

The last time I updated was several weeks ago, and it might be several weeks before I update again.  My roommate moved out, taking her computer and interwebz with her.  Right now I'm kind of in interwebz limbo, and well, that's okay.  I kind of like not being too connected.  I've got too many other things to do. cleaning my apartment so a potential new roommate can come look at it. 

I'm not sure how I ended up with so much STUFF.  Seriously.  My apartment has a large bedroom, in which I am currently sleeping/living/keeping my stuff, and a smaller bedroom, which was until very recently home to a lady I called my roommate.  I've decided that it's a good time for a change, so I'm going to move all my things into the smaller bedroom--getting rid of whatever doesn't fit or clutters stuff up too much.  And well...golly gee...I've just got too much STUFF.  Clothes.  Books.  Knick knacks.  Not to mention my collection, yes my COLLECTION of Eeyore beanie babies.  How many possible ways could they dress Eeyore up?  Idk...but I've got like 20 of them...

It's time to declutter.  It's time to get rid of old junk.  It's time to start afresh.  But sometimes getting to that new place is harder than it seems.  And I might have mentioned before that I just don't like change....

...but God keeps sending me little reminders that it's time for things to change.  For one thing, about half my friends (or so it seems) have moved away or are about to move away.  The other half (or so it seems) have either just given birth or are about to give birth.  Some of my friends have both given birth AND moved away, and well, it's just gotten ridiculously obvious that right now is such a season of change.  I knew it was coming, but I don't think we can ever be prepared for it when it finally comes.  CHANGE.

Even if I'm not moving from my current apartment, I'm still feeling the need to get a fresh start and shake things up even more than they've already been shaken.  I'm still working on a job application, hoping that when the summer ends, I'll be starting my work life afresh, too.  We'll see what happens.

But more than just the physical, obvious stuff, I really have been sensing some big changes.  Mainly, my attitude on a lot of things has completely flip-flopped.  I've finally, FINALLY begun to see that my life and talents are not really mine.  I've kinda sorta always known that, but it's such a hard concept to grasp.  And I'm not sure that I have fully grasped it, but I'm a lot closer than I was.  Because I'm finally realizing the truth that when my talents don't belong to me, then I have absolutely nothing to fear by sharing them with others.  And it's hard to explain the fear that I've had--it's not fear of sharing the talents so much as it was fear that I'd have excessive pride when sharing those talents.  And since I had that fear, since I knew pride was lurking behind every talent, it was actually a good thing for me to keep those talents as hidden as possible. 

For instance, I'd sing in the choir, but never audition for a solo.  But I finally figured out that my voice isn't something I created within myself--it's something God gave me.  And if God gave me that voice, He didn't give it to me to keep to myself.  All my talents are something God gave me so that I could give them to others.  That doesn't mean I should go out and sing solos all the time, or whatever, but it means that I can no longer be afraid to share my voice when the time is right to share it. 

And just this morning, I was driving to work.  As I flipped between the two tolerable Christian radio stations that play in my area, I heard two different songs by the David Crowder Band (who, sadly, are no more).  And I found myself thanking God for giving singing/songwriting abilities to Mr. David Crowder and his former band of awesomeness.  I was thinking about how much those songs meant to me, how they so genuinely praised the Lord and related to the amazing, awkward, sometimes painful beauty of humanity.  And once again I had this epiphany that if God gives someone a talent, then that talent is meant to be shared.  If DCB hadn't joined and performed their music, I and so many others would have missed out on some pretty extraordinary musical blessings.  And I'm not saying that my songs are anywhere near the caliber of DCB, but I kinda think that if God inspired me with some lyrics, along with giving me a decent singing voice and a barely passable guitar playing ability, then maybe I should so something with that.

And I can't be afraid. 

Just as I can't be afraid to take all the little steps I have to take in order to embrace all the newness in my life.  It's not easy.  It's not supposed to be. 

Honestly, I don't really have a clue what's coming in the next few months.  I don't even know how I'm going to pay my rent next month.  What I do know is that the Lord is faithful.  What I do know is that He already sees the end of everything before I even see the beginning.  There's a lot going on.  I've lost friends due to moving and even some to death.  And it's not easy, not for me, and not for others.  But I'm not alone.  They're not alone.  And I know God's doing something in my life and in the lives of others to bring us closer to each other, closer to Him. 

We can't be afraid.  We can't be afraid to give.  We can't be afraid to give because nothing we have is ours anyway. 

There's freedom in that.  I don't think I've grasped it.  Maybe it's not about grasping as much as it's about letting go. 

Shrug.  I'm getting there.

...until the next update...

Monday, May 28, 2012

Monday Blahg: Break

I really don't like it when people refer to this time of year as "summer."  Summer doesn't happen officially until around June 20th.  We still have almost a month to go until summer.  Spring is my favorite season--so I like to keep it around as long as possible.  ...even if the temperature is 90 degrees....

Well, it's not summer yet, but I think I'm going to take a blogging break for the "summer."  Right now there is just too much going on for me to figure out when I'm going to regularly blog.  I have to be out of my apartment in about a month, and right now I don't know where I'll be moving.  I don't know if I'll have regular internet access for a while.  I don't know if I'm going to be living in a cardboard box....

I'll continue to update from time to time, if I really have something to say, but I know I won't have time or mental energy to continue to blog 3 days a week.  I'll try to bring some normality back to the blog once I've figured out my living situations and job situations--and some normality to my life again.

Prayers are definitely appreciated right now.  I've known that changes were going to come, and now it's time for them.  I really am feeling hopeful about what God is doing, but it's hard to trust Him when I don't know the details.  I truly believe that He's going to bring me to a better place in my life, a place where He wants me to be--but getting there is hard.  I don't want to pack.  I don't want to have to figure out where I'm living.  I don't want to have to rely on others to help me.  But I'm going to have to be a grown up, put on my big girl pants, and deal with it.  It's going to be hard and stressful, but I believe there's going to be blessing on the other side.

So stay tuned--I'll update when I can.  Have a great summer (and the rest of spring)!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What I Did With My Weekend

It's the last week of preschool, I've got two jobs almost every day this week, and I haven't had a chance to really even breathe since getting back in town on Monday.  So...this is the only blog post I'm probably going to do this week.  In fact, my blogging schedule is probably going to be messed up for most of the summer, if I even manage to blog at all.  I'm moving soon and don't really even know where I'm moving...

But this is what I did with my weekend:

My goal for the half-marathon: a time under 2 hours and 40 minutes (I would have gladly accepted 2:39:59)

My actual time: 2 hours 27 minutes 51 seconds. 

I was stunned.  In fact, I still am.

Now, lots of runners can run 13.1 miles in under 2.5 hours.  In fact, the people who won the half-marathon in which I participated ran it in under 1.5 hours.  But for me, Pansy Runner, this was an accomplishment--especially considering I was still feeling a little sick.  I didn't realize I was still feeling a little sick until during/after the race.  After crossing the finish line, I was ridiculously happy to meet up with my new BFF, the port-a-potty (I was too stubborn to stop and use one along the race course, even though I could have used one around mile 6).  When I got back to my sister's house, I took a shower, got dressed, started seeing black spots, got a killer headache, nearly passed out, and just generally thought I was going to die.  Then I puked my guts out, took a two hour nap, and felt much better.

Would I do it all over again?


It was a great experience (sans the post-race port-a-potty and puke party).  The scenery and weather were beautiful.  And God enabled me to do something that I would have never even thought about doing a year and a half ago.  Training has made my muscles stronger, but I'm not really that strong.  My only hope has ever been and ever will be that "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the strong" (1 Cor. 1:27). 

I'mma keep boasting in Him.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Fiction Friday Book Review: THE MAZE RUNNER Trilogy by James Dashner

“Drama Queen,” the thirteen-year-old I watch/drive around was the first one to recommend The Hunger Games to me. So when she recommended a book called The Maze Runner by James Dashner, I definitely trusted her judgment. And as pathetic as it might seem that I share the same basic literary tastes as a thirteen-year-old, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed The Maze Runner. The two sequels, The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure, were also highly enjoyable.

The trilogy is definitely dystopian, although that is not clear in the beginning. In fact, it took me a while to get into the story because I wasn’t sure where it was going. But Dashner did an excellent job of setting up the plot. It begins with the main character of Thomas, whose only memory is his first name. He arrives in an enclosed community called the Glade, where the population consists of several other teenage boys who also have no memory of their lives before they arrived at the Glade. Adjacent to the Glade is a dangerous maze, which is believed to hold the key to their captivity. The arrival of the first girl (Teresa) in the Glade triggers several events that might lead to their freedom, but her arrival also triggers memories in Thomas, which suggest that the world beyond the maze might not be what they expect. Lurking behind it all is a mysterious organization called WICKED, which Teresa claims is good—but Thomas isn’t so sure.

Perhaps one of the marks of a good dystopian novel is that it’s a bit disturbing—in a good way. I haven’t been kept awake by a book since I finished reading The Hunger Games series, but I found myself thinking about these books long after turning out the light. I wondered why the characters were acting the way that they were. I wondered how the characters might feel about the difficult decisions they had made or were about to make. I wondered what the characters were going to do next, what was going to happen to them. Dashner definitely kept me guessing throughout the series, often surprising me. In fact, at the end of the first book, I found myself staring in disbelief at the last page, absolutely shocked at the turn the story had taken. Dashner knows how to write a good cliff-hanger; he has a gift for suspenseful writing.

This gift was also evident in the many exciting action scenes that took place throughout the series. I often found myself on the metaphorical “edge of my seat” while Thomas and his friends encountered monsters in the maze, zombie-like creatures in an abandoned city, or (most frightening and disturbing of all) average humans who were capable of unspeakable cruelty. It was hard to tell who was a “good guy” or “bad guy” in this series. While that much mystery would typically bother me, I was intrigued by Dashner’s ability to make me repeatedly question whether or not I liked a character.

There were things I didn’t like about the plot—but mainly these were surface things, like not wanting a certain character to die, or not wanting the story to take off in a grim direction. But the darker aspects provided a realism that I can definitely appreciate and admire. Dashner crafted a story that was thought-provoking, exciting, and three-dimensional. His characters were not what one might always want or expect—they were human, with good qualities and bad. And somehow I think that message might have been an underlying theme of the whole series. We’re all human. We are all capable of noble things, but we’re also very capable of evil. Those were the thoughts that kept me up at night.

There is no sex and only light profanity in The Maze Runner series, but due to violence and disturbing/intense imagery, I highly recommend this series only for mid-to-older teenagers and adults. Despite the fact that a thirteen-year-old got me hooked on it, I think the younger teenagers should wait a few years.

I also want to point out that while girls will probably appreciate this story, it seems more geared towards boys. There aren’t enough stories out there specifically for teenage guys, so if you’re a parent of boys, I’d check these out. And if you live in Wake County and use their library system, go ahead and get put on the reserve list for The Maze Runner, because it took me almost two months to get it! The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure were both ready within a week of my reservation.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Another Hump Day Blahg

It probably wasn't missed, but I didn't get a chance to write and post the Monday Blahg.  Sunday was insanely busy--church, immediately followed by work (drop-in childcare place was open on Mother's Day, and since my mom lives far away, I worked and allowed some of the other workers to be with their moms who live nearby), immediately followed by a 9 mile run.

And Monday turned out to be blaher than usual.   I was/still am kinda-sorta sick, but not really.  I never had a fever or anything to indicate being really sick--I just felt completely lethargic and had an upset tummy.  I went to bed SUPER early Monday night and felt much better Tuesday, but I'm still recovering.

So, I'm going to go ahead and cut this short because I need some rest (I'm writing this Tuesday night).  My half-marathon is this Saturday.  Lord willing, I'm flying out to Indiana on Thursday to see family and run the Geist Half Marathon.  I hope to be over whatever random kinda-sorta sickness I have so I can run my best.   Prayers for health/safety would be appreciated.  More than that, pray that I honor the Lord in the way I run and encourage other runners.

I'm still so amazed that He would enable me to run.  I still think of myself as an overweight pansy, but He's done a lot in my life to bring me to this point.  This race, it's not about how fast I can run or about how long I can go.  It's about the Lord being my hope and my strength.  I'm just so blessed that He would choose to use me. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Fiction Friday: Book Review of SLIDE by Jill Hathaway

Sixteen-year-old Vee is narcoleptic. At least, that’s what her friends and family believe. What they don’t know is that when Vee loses consciousness, she leaves her own body and slides into other people, seeing the world through their perspectives. She doesn’t know why she has these bizarre episodes, nor is there anyone whom she can trust to talk about them—not even her best friend, Rollins, or her attractive new love interest, Zane. As if her life isn’t already complicated enough, Vee slides into a stranger, right after he or she has committed a murder. Everyone believes it was a suicide; only Vee knows the truth. But can she learn to use her “gift” to figure out who the killer is before more people die?

Slide is the debut novel by Jill Hathaway, and I enjoyed it. Hathaway took an intriguing paranormal idea and seamlessly wove it into the life of a somewhat troubled high school student. The book was written in the recently popular first person, present tense, so the reader sees what Vee is seeing as she is seeing it, which works well for this story. Hathaway’s writing style is fun and easy to read—I found myself eager to turn the pages even on my second read, when I already knew what was going to happen. She has a wonderful writing voice that makes one want to keep reading.

Slide is a little different from what I usually read. There is more foul language and crude behavior (from minor characters) than what I am used to. But I do remember going to public high school, and Hathaway’s portrayal of high school life is spot-on (she is also a high school teacher, so she would know). Vee is also a very different character than most of the characters to which I am personally drawn, but I liked being inside her head—which was even more interesting when she slid into other people. Hathaway did a wonderful job developing her character throughout the story.

I was a little dissatisfied in the way some of the plot progressed, mainly because I think that there was too much going on in the story. This is a minor issue I have with an otherwise well-written book. I’m hoping Slide will eventually have a sequel. At the very least, I hope to read more from Jill Hathaway in the future.

I recommend Slide to older teenagers and adults who can enjoy a fun paranormal YA mystery.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012




Monday, May 7, 2012

Monday Blahg: The Life Coach

Some weeks, I just have to accept that I'm not going to be productive.  This was one of those weeks.  I worked about 50 hours--and my work schedule was all over the place.  I also ran 13.25 miles at one time (and also found time to work out two other days last week).  I kept up with my blogging, and somehow miraculously found the time to finish rereading the book I'd been wanting to review, as well as read another entirely different book.  I've at least made a good attempt at getting back into regularly praying and reading the Bible.  I'm still playing catch-up, and might be for a while, but I'm not stressing about it anymore.

Sometimes you just have to do what you have time to do, and not stress about it. 

I was feeling pretty lousy about my time-management and productivity last Monday.  I went into work (after oversleeping, being five minutes late, and just generally feeling like I seriously needed to get my act together) at the drop-in center.  Surprisingly, I had a really good/random attitude going on.  I started verbalizing my thoughts to the kids: "Hey kids, Miss Ruth needs help getting her life together.  I need a life coach.  Any takers?"  Since the majority of the kids were under the age of five, no one really had the slightest clue what I was talking about.  That's okay, because I'm pretty sure I didn't have a clue what I was talking about, either.

Since no one immediately volunteered, I turned to the youngest kid there, a 23 month old boy.  "Hey *insert child's name here*, would you like to be my life coach?"

He kind of babbled a little and squealed.  I took that as a "Yes."

So I shook the kid's hand and said, "Okay, Coach.  Tell me how to get my life together."

The kid laughed, ran away, climbed up the slide, and went into the play tunnel. 

I shrugged and climbed up the slide to join him.

Now, I've been working at that particular drop-in center for more than six years.  In those six years, I've probably only been inside that tunnel six times--like maybe once a year--and five of those times I only went in the tunnel because there was some screaming child who refused to get out of it and needed me to go in after him/her.  The tunnel is dark and scary, and although we sanitize it every night, my brain still tells me that is infested with "khe cooties."  But Coach showed me it was time to just forget the "kid cooties," drop my serious attitude, and go ahead and climb inside the tunnel.  So I did. 

Two years ago, I would have probably been too fat to be comfortable inside the tunnel.  But I'm sixty pounds lighter now than I was then, so the tunnel didn't seem as cramped as it did in years past.  And I followed Coach all the way through the play tunnel, laughing at the absurdity of it all, laughing because Coach taught me something important:

Don't worry.  Stop stressing.  Just go with it.  Laugh.  Have fun.  You can't control everything, so just do what you can and enjoy LIFE.

Then, after our romp through the play tunnel, Coach pointed the the floor. I interpreted this to mean that he wanted me to "drop and give him 20."  I dropped and gave him...4.  Well, it was more like 3 and a half.  He laughed at me.  23 months old and he was laughing at my feeble attempt to do push-ups.

And I didn't just make that last part up.  The other grown-up there saw the whole thing. 

...she laughed at me, too.

So, yeah.  This week?  Did I get all the grown up stuff done that I was supposed to get done?  No.  In fact, I consider it a huge accomplishment that I remembered to get new stickers and registration for my license plate this week.  That was my grown-up accomplishment for the week.  Getting my car legal.  The rest?  I worked a lot.  I ran a lot.  I tried to get to bed on time.  I tried to wake up and get to work on time.  And if I managed to get anything done between those things, then, well, that was pretty good for me.  Honestly, sometimes you just have to let things go and trust that God's going to provide.  It's all about balance.  Have I ever mentioned here that I'm not very good at that?

This next week shouldn't be quite so busy, while it's good not to worry, it's also good to be responsible. 

--I do hope to get this job application DONE this week.  That's my goal.  I need to set a deadline if it's going to happen.

--I want to actually look at some of my writing and at least make some plans for what I want to do with it--nothing major.  I just want to get some ideas flowing for when I have more time to devote to it.

--I want to run 10 miles in preparation for my half-marathon.  I now know I can do it because I did it.  I ran over the required 13.1 miles.  And astonishingly, I ran it in the time I hoped to run it.  The day of the race, I'm kind of hoping for a better time, but there are so many variables.  The climate will be a little different since it's in a different state--but I'm hoping it will be cooler since it's further north.  I'm running around a reservoir, so I'm hoping it won't be too humid.  I'm really hoping it doesn't rain, although that would be better than scorching heat/sunshine--which probably won't be the case since it starts at 7 in the morning.  Also, I'm not sure about the hills on the course--as much as I hate hills, my legs hate them even more.  People say that adrenaline will kick in the day of the race, so I should be able to run faster, but from my past experiences, that's probably not going to be the case.  Honestly, I will be happy if I finish under 3 hours, but I'm hoping for under 2:45.  Okay, so I'm hoping for under 2:40, but we'll see what happens.  Just the fact that I'm doing this is still pretty miraculous.  God has just amazed me in the past year--how He's changed my mind and body.  It's incredible.

--I want to reread a book for a review.  We'll see what happens.  I'm hoping to do a few book reviews in the next few weeks--these aren't for books that I've been asked to review.  I just like doing it--letting other readers know what's out there.  If you have friends that read a lot and are looking for new stuff to read, be sure to direct them to my blog. 

--I need to figure out my living situation.  Like, now.  I think I'm in denial that my roommate is moving, and that I will probably have to move, as well.  I don't like being a grown-up.  Sometimes, it's fun to crawl through tunnels and not have to worry about stuff, but I think that even Coach would agree that sometimes grown-ups have to be grown-ups. 

...he probably also agrees that it's pretty pathetic that I can only do 4 push-ups.

Okay, it was more like 3 and a half.

Happy Monday Funday!