Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Zuppa Tuscana and Play Time Make For a Good Day!

This is my "Plans Went Awry" Font. You probably didn't realize I change fonts for each of the days: Times for Contemplation; Verdana for Wholeness, etc. I'm using Trebuchet for when my plans for the day don't work out. I confess that I can't really tell the difference between Verdana and Trebuchet except that Trebuchet seems a little smaller. On the other hand, I can tell the difference between a day filled with stress and a day when I am flexible. 

I started on Part II of Conquering Anger early this morning, but I didn't finish it. I thought I would continue writing later in the day. In the past, I would have pushed on through getting angry at anyone who or anything that blocked my path. For what purpose? What was the use of accomplishing something if no one wanted to share in the joy of the accomplishment? 

Instead, today, I went to my tutoring job, came back up the hill to pick up my granddaughter, played her invented game, and made Zuppa Tuscana. Voila! I'll write on #13 off of the 365 Writing Prompts: What did I eat for dinner? I'm not sure why the list writer figured someone's dinner would be universally interesting; however, I will tell anyone who has read this far that my husband and I ate leftovers on Monday. He ate a leftover hamburger and I ate a baked bean sandwich (using gluten-free bread, of course). You may never have heard of baked bean sandwiches; they might be a mid-west American food as I learned how to make it from my family. Leftovers gone, I made this soup today. 

Food photography is not my gift -- the soup even steamed up the camera lens -- but this is a very yummy soup so I'm including my friend Rebecca's recipe here. 

1 pound Italian sausage, cooked in the oven
3/4 cup chopped onion 
3 Tablespoons butter 
4 cloves garlic (I used the frozen squares of garlic and they worked fine)
1 cube chicken boullion
4 cups water 
2 thinly sliced potatoes 
2 cups kale, washed, dried, and diced 
1/3 cup whipping cream 
Saute onions in butter for 10 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add water, bouillon and potatoes. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add kale, cream and sausage. Simmer for 5 minutes. Serves 6. (That's what the recipe says, but I had the amount in the bowl shown up above, my husband had two bowls full, and I don't think there were three bowls worth leftover.)

And, I think I will write one last word about overcoming anger: play. I love playing my granddaughter's game because we play it just to laugh and build a relationship that will last long after the game ends, and leave good memories beyond my lifetime. Overcoming anger starts with little steps like learning how to laugh and have joy in one's life. 

Not a picture of my granddaughter and me (no one around to take a picture of us :D), but one from a missions trip. Our joy and laughter at home is just as important as the joy and laughter we share away from home. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Conquering Anger -- Part I

This angry face image came from a man blogging about his anger at the Twins (baseball team). That kind of anger baffles me. I suppose if he has money he has gambled on the game and they are losing, then that means he is losing as well. It seems like strange behavior to me since his anger can not change the outcome of the game. However, I have been angry. Many times in my life. Yet, when I read on my 365 Writing Prompts list (found not on my List Board as previously blogged; it's on my 2014? Board), the day twelve prompt was "What is making you mad?" and nothing was making mad. In fact, I was having a difficult time remembering the last time I was angry. I am sure my children or husband could tell me in an instant, but I am no longer in the habit of being mad. So, "Conquering Anger" is what I contemplated this past Sunday.

I was interrupted after writing that last sentence (interruptions in the past would have made me angry), and in the intervening time, I realized how long a post this could become! Therefore, I am just going to tackle the first situation that came to mind when I think of my anger: Exhaustion.

Exhaustion, fatigue, tiredness. As a young mom with four children, I encountered fatigue often. I was not in the best of conditions to be kind, loving, or gentle. Sad to say, I made the situation worse by adding more activities to my life at a time when I could have been trying to get some rest. Wait! Don't get mad at me if you are a stay-at-home mom! I'm just telling my story here of one of the factors that made it easy for me to embrace anger.

Even when the children were in school, and I was working outside of the home, I added too many activities. Staying busy with activities happens to be a part of my cultural upbringing. That may not be the case for all readers, but where I live, people value one another by what they accomplish.

I have learned that I have value irregardless of what I accomplish. Those of you who have read some of my previous posts know that I am currently reading a book titled The Swerve. If you believe that you are nothing but atoms, I guess it makes sense that you should live for nothing but pleasure and avoidance of pain. I just haven't quite figured out how everyone can do that all at the same time. I'm thinking as I write here (I imagine you can tell that), and accomplishing something can give a person pleasure, but again, don't we get back to this idea that one is valued because of accomplishments? Also, what do we do when what we want to accomplish conflicts with another's person's desire for accomplishment? Much of the time, we get angry.

Being angry may give temporary pleasure and get a person what he wants, but then the person or people on the receiving end experience pain. I get the impression that people are just supposed to choose to all work together so that everyone will experience pleasure at the same time. Yeah. It doesn't seem to be working.

To be blunt, it takes more faith for me to believe in the "Swerve" than it does for me to believe in a good, loving, Triune God who says I have value, not because of what I do, but because I am uniquely created. He loves for me to be the ultimate me as He created me to be. (Okay, way too much rhyming there.) He doesn't want a cookie cutter person. He doesn't want me to have to do every activity that comes my way just so I can show society that I am a person of value. And, I certainly don't have to be doing anything to earn His love.

He knows my body needs rest to be the best me, and to be the kind of person that simply does not feel driven to anger, wrath, malice, or temper tantrums.

I know there are all kinds of situations that involve times when rest is out of reach such as for the student pictured below (and here is the link to go to some sort of event planning blog that suggests eleven ways to get a good night's sleep -- you might not be able to buy a new bed #11, but the rest are do-able). But, look how long this post is already. Feel free to comment. I'll title this Part I and see where it goes from here.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

What to Post When You are Supposed to be Writing Assigned Papers

Don't laugh when you read that I pin (to my board on the Pinterest site). Remember, I am the one with paper piles from which no paper can ever be found. 

This is not a Google stock image. I have a personal relationship with this mess. There are no messes on Pinterest, a site which provides me with virtual file cabinets. I needed a list yesterday and, within two minutes, I found it on my Pinterest List Board. On that board was a list with 365 days of writing prompts. For your perusal are days one through eleven. You will have to either read to the end (or scroll down) to see why I am doing this. 

#1 -- My number one goal this year is to be more like Jesus than last year. 
#2 -- I am most grateful for Jesus in my life; if you want to read something other than Jesus as the answer, then it would be my family. See the third picture below.
#3 -- Yes, I am content…and no, I am not content. If content means to never change for the better, then no, I am not content. If by content, one means do I feel the need to strive for more possessions in my life, then I am happy to tell you that I am content with what I have. 
#4 -- Best memory of last year? Ahhh, now I get to post pictures. Last year had many sad memories, but mixed with the sadness were some great times. I will stick with just three. 

This picture does not do justice to the simple beauty of  our Christmas tree this year. I loved how unrushed and unhurried our Christmas was this year. 
I am learning with this great group of people. In October, we spent a week together and three more times over the course of two years, we will get together (in London, no less). 
I can't seem to control where my pictures end up: this gathering of my family happened in July. What a joy to gather all but six of us together in one place. Family gatherings count at the top of my memory list: Thanksgiving with youngest daughter in Redding; Yosemite with her and my youngest son's family; Sunday dinners. 
#5 -- Last major accomplishment -- figuring out how to get out of the caption mode to be able to continue writing. Seriously, any time I get out of a technological glitch counts as an accomplishment, or a miracle. Writing each day for forty-nine days, missing only two days, counts as an accomplishment. Staying married for forty years as of last April 15th definitely counts as an accomplishment, or a miracle. 
#6 -- What possession could I not live without? I could live without all my possessions -- see #3. Well, yes, clothing does count as a possession, and that is the one I need. I do like to be clothed. 
#7 -- Can people change? Yes. 
#8 -- Last "good" thing I ate -- define "good." If we are discussing "good for my health," then I guess it would be some buckwheat pilaf. If we mean "good, yummy," I ate a tasty piece of halibut with risotto (which I think also counts as healthy). 
#9 -- Current favorite snack -- carrot sticks (no, not because of any resolutions) 
#10 -- What made me smile on day ten -- my granddaughter K. On day nine, it was granddaughter S. :D 
#11 -- My favorite accessory? Lol! I am not against accessories; I just don't have time for them. My favorite accessory is probably this hat. 

This photo courtesy of my talented niece-in-law Brianne MacRunnel, owner of Brianne Janae Photography. I wear this hat (which no longer is anywhere close to being in this good of shape) to keep the dirt and weeds from getting all over me when I throw the ball for my dog. 

If you lasted this long, you may be wondering why this different type of posting. I had plans to practice the Word-centered life on Friday and write about it today. I did spend time in the Word (Matthew 13:18-23 The Parable of the Sower Explained to be exact), and I am creative enough that I could have turned that into a post; however, most of my day was spent with "words" -- lower case 'w' -- or in avoiding them. 

Here is an opportunity for my former students to gloat. It is easier to assign papers than it is to write papers, and I have two six-to-nine page papers due by the end of the month. I think I've written before about my relationship with cleaning and organizing. Yesterday, I found out that I can get so much cleaning and organizing done when I am supposed to be writing papers! I did manage to stay off of Facebook…but took that little detour over to Pinterest. Therefore, just so my students can enjoy watching me squirm as I live in their world of papers, assignments, and due dates, I wrote this post; now I am going to go tackle those papers. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

God Comforts Me

Have you ever gone back to something you have written and discovered how many mistakes you have made? That's what I did this morning. I looked back over yesterday's post, and I counted at least five errors. (Yes, former students, the green ink flowed freely -- in my mind -- over the page.)Of course, the mistakes were made in a post read by more than the usual number of readers (more than my mom and best friends). I wrote: "get on on" instead of "get it on my Kindle." The whole post focuses on the compassionate life, yet I wrote "the contemplative life ascribes value"; it certainly may in other contexts, but I intended to write "the compassionate life ascribes value to everything the Creator has created." I did not even copy the psalm down correctly. It makes more sense for "grain" to go to the eater instead of "great." And, heavens oh heavens, I lacked enough transition between the "trees of the field clapped their hands" and Jesus caring for the least of these. He does care for the trees but the least of these are people who society undervalues.  

Can I blame it on listening to the thud of pieces of my beautiful tree falling to the ground as I typed yesterday? Each time the house rattled, my dog sitting inside with me would start howling.I felt like joining her. I do realize this situation pales in comparison to tragic situations going on throughout the world. It even pales in comparison to some circumstances in my life last year, in the last five years. However, the image of this beautiful tree now cut down symbolizes fairly well changes, large and small, tragic or just disruptive.

My original plan was to practice a particular thread or stream of life one day and write about it the next. As I went about my day yesterday, I wondered how I was going to write about the spirit-filled life in a practical way. Yes, the Spirit is practical; yes, there are plenty of stories to tell; however, how to convey those stories without sounding crazy or prideful right now seems beyond my skill level. 

I decided to return to Frank Laubach's letters, and throw in some interesting passages from a new-to-me author, Trevor Hudson. I'll start with Trevor's first. 

"During the '70s and '80s some readers may recall an explosion of interest in the holy Spirit around the world. The so-called charismatic movement brought renewal to the lives of millions of Christ-followers. Many people, including myself, found themselves experiencing God in a new, fresh, and living way. Strikingly, a number of church leaders in South Africa who stood at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid at that time also participated in this wave of the Spirit. Involvement in the struggle for justice taking place on the streets required an empowerment that only the Spirit could give. This interest in God's Spirit also manifested unhelpful aspects. its focus on experiencing the Spirit led many into a search for mere spiritual thrills. We may find ourselves easily titillated by various phenomena when it comes to openness to the Spirit. Congregational division surfaced around these phenomena. One negative aspect was the casual way in which people sometimes referred to the Spirit. I still remember being asked, "Have you got it?" I never felt sure of how to answer. While I knew the person was referring to the Holy Spirit, sometimes I would jokingly say, 'Of course, I have got it. Why do you think [my wife] married me?" 

"Speaking of the Holy Spirit as an "it" suggests that the Spirit is some kind of invisible force or impersonal power or abstract influence. However, if this were really so, we would be unable to relate personally to the Spirit. Nor could the Holy Spirit guide, comfort, or lead people, which the Bible describes as activity of the Spirit. But even more sadly, regarding the Holy Spirit as an "it" encourages people to do and say some terrible things; often manipulating others to bring about desired effects" (19-20). 

These thoughts cause me to want to be particularly cautious when discussing the Spirit-filled life. I think I can safely write that the Holy Spirit comforted me yesterday in a number of ways. For the sake of safety, my husband and I were told the redwood tree would have to be cut down in small pieces; yet, they were able to cut them down in large enough sections for us to have something of remembrance made out of the wood. My student and I had ordered her textbooks on Monday using regular delivery; yet, they arrived within two days enabling us to start studying. My daughter's box of gifts arrived yesterday. Some want to say those are all coincidences. That's okay. It is also the Holy Spirit's job to reveal Himself; I don't have to force Him on anyone. Now, for Frank Laubach's letter of 7 October 1930. 

"It is the spirit of greed which Jesus said God hated more than any other. It is so diametrically opposite to the spirit of God. For God forever lavishes His gifts upon the good and bad alike, and finds all His joy in endless giving." 

Thursday, January 09, 2014

The Compassionate Life and My Redwood Tree

I failed my intended compassion "practice" yesterday. Just thought I should let you know. I went down a list of suggested ways of helping those less fortunate than I, and bypassed each one that took some previous planning. I happened upon the "read a book that discusses social issues" activity: this sounded do-able if I could get on on my Kindle. The two books suggested were The Politics of Jesus and The Upside-Down Kingdom (only the latter was available as an e-book). Don't rail on me if these are horrible books. I have not read them: I just saw them on a list of suggested books. In the middle of ordering the Kindle book, the thought came to me that I still had not sent off any cards to the three girls my husband and I support through World Vision. Being intentional about supporting these girls (in Kenya, India, and Haiti) beyond just monthly financial support is something I want to practice. 

It did not happen yesterday. Each day I just get busy with other appointments and activities (which may be all well and good), and the cards get left in a pile…somewhere. One of my "practices" that helps me to be a more loving thoughtful person is to take care of my mail the minute it comes into the house. I am serious. When we think of spiritual practices, we tend to think of praying, going to church, meditating, etc., but anything that helps us get into a habit of consciously being present to God and to people with love and kindness can be a spiritual practice. 

I ended up ordering the book. Sigh. I could have chosen something like "wash the dishes." I can imagine some eyebrows going up after reading that sentence. Washing dishes for a stay-at-home spouse shows that the one who normally washes dishes is valued. Too often when someone does not have a job, s/he feels s/he has no value. (I know, I know…all you grammarians will just have to overlook my awkward use of s/he.) My spouse does wash the dishes and also shared this duty when I was working full-time. Furthermore,  I actually enjoy washing dishes because I can wash dishes, watch the birds outside my window, and think. Not that I am implying a compassionate action has to be drudgery! Washing dishes just doesn't help me practice giving to anyone. (Maybe I can put it with my contemplation practices. :D) 

Value. Another word for me to contemplate. The contemplative life ascribes value, great value, on what and whom God values. And, God values every person, not because of what that person can do, but because that person exists. Which brings me to my redwood tree. 

As I sit here typing this post, my redwood tree is being cut down. The tree has been a part of my life and the life of my family for over twenty years. We are not taking this action lightly. We value this tree. It has provided shade for us and a home for birds and squirrels for many years. I could name other purposes this tree has served; however, it does have value beyond its purposes. It has a created beauty of its own. Often I would take naps on the living room couch and awaken to views like the ones below. You can comment and tell us how we should not be cutting down the tree (please be kind when you do so), but the roots of the tree are completely uprooting our house. Our fireplace is coming undone, and there are cracks, repairably now, if we stop the tree from invading our home. In answer to those who want to say the tree was there first, it was not. Nor were we the folks who unwisely planted the tree this close to the house. 

How often verses in the Bible tell us to be like a tree (Psalm 1 immediately comes to mind, but there are more than I can list here. ) God values trees. God values what He has created.

Isaiah 55: 10 - 12 speaks not only about trees, but also of how every word spoken by God will accomplish its purpose and "succeed in the thing for which I sent it." 

For as the rain and the snow comes down from heaven, 
And do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, 
Giving seed to the sower and great to the eater, 
So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; 
It shall not return to me empty, 
But it shall accomplish that which I purpose, 
And succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 

For you shall go out in joy, 
And be led back in peace; 
The mountains and hills before you 
Shall burst into song, 
And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 

Jesus tells us to do unto the least of these because it is doing it for Him. His word that will not come back empty. He values people, not for their accomplishments, but because He created each and every one. He values everything He has created. How can I do anything less? My hope is that there will be Thursdays where I write about having better days at practicing compassion, at valuing everything and everyone God has created. 

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Don't Read This Book If You Are Easily Offended

Do an Internet search for images, click on the page where the images are from, and you get to read some rather interesting articles, like the article for this image above on book clubs. 

Yesterday I attended the monthly meeting of a local library book club. I have been part of the group for at least four years now. They were excited when I came because I was someone younger joining the group. I was excited because I was not the oldest person there. The group has definitely expanded my reading list. After a brief stint with Nancy Drew mysteries during my elementary school years, the number of times I have chosen to read a mystery or detective novel has been less than one every ten years. (My apologies to former student Elaine who writes detective/ mystery novels -- I promise to read hers.) Since joining the group, I have read from every genre. Last month's book (so this month's meeting) was The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt. 

Don't read the book if you believe in God and you are easily offended. Greenblatt's thesis (not a spoiler, and even if it was, unless you are heavily interested in textual scholarship, you are going to want to get to the point) that the re-discovery of Lucretius's poem On the Nature of Things caused the world to become modern (i.e. Epicurean). Okay, so maybe that is a simplistic description of his thesis, but I just want to get to what I was practicing yesterday. I shall, however, return to this book from time to time. 

It might be helpful to know that possibly 95 percent of the members agree with Lucretius's poem (as summarized by Greenblatt): 

  • The universe has no creator or designer 
  • Human society began not in Paradise but in a primitive battle for survival
  • The soul dies 
  • There is no afterlife 
  • When you are dead, you will not care because you will not exist; you just go back to being atoms 
  • All organized religions are superstitious delusions 
There's more, but I think you get the picture. You probably figured out that I am the 5 percent who believes in God. So, I'm practicing the with-God life, did I go in armed with apologetics (a defense of the faith)? I did not. Not because I was afraid, but because I wanted to bring Jesus to them. 

I practiced listening because that's what Jesus did.  I let other members explain how bored they were with Greenblatt's endless historical perspective. When the discussion leader read Greenblatt's biographical information and spoke out words that had everyone in a quandary, I could explain what New Historicism, textual, and contextual meant. Jesus is intelligent; I can be intelligent. I practiced asking questions kindly. Afterwards I went to lunch with those going to lunch because Jesus loved to eat meals with people, people who did not believe in Him. Jesus was accused of eating with sinners.

And, this is where my practice time did not go so well. Oh, no, I neither made enemies, nor fell into gluttony, but I failed to practice blessing. Three of us, in great humor, poked fun at the differences between us and our husbands. I suppose we could be excused for our rather gentle jokes, but we did not notice that our eldest member, a dear soul who had been married for thirty-seven years and widowed for twenty-six had fallen quiet. As we got up to leave, tears filled her eyes and she told us to cherish every moment we had with our husbands. The holidays had been extremely difficult and lonesome for her. We comforted her, of course, as best as we could. But, I realized, I still have some practicing to do when it comes to being as present as Jesus was and is to people. Lest you think I am going to mentally whip myself, I am not. I am going to continue to practice. 

Side note: Greenblatt goes to great lengths to explain how early Christians, even those like Thomas More, wore hair shirts and physically whipped themselves, etc. The apostle Paul clearly writes in Colossians that God never called anyone to do those types of activities; whipping oneself, either physically or mentally is a human invention. So, no, I am just going to continue practicing the incarnational life -- living as Jesus would have lived if he was Debbi going to a book club meeting. I can not do it completely, but I can do.

Wow. Never do an Internet search on a topic if you want to write easily and quickly. I searched the word "incarnational" prior to writing this post.  It turns out that some people, who do believe in Jesus, do not believe in living an incarnational life. The main argument against living an incarnational life or carrying out an incarnational mission is that Jesus as God became human. We're not God. Point taken. I still like the term because I know those of us who use it do not actually believe we are God. We just want to bring the presence of God with us wherever we are, wherever we go. Maybe I will just call this tradition, virtue, thread of life (all words that if I do an Internet search are going to come up with criticisms…sigh…): the With-God Life. 

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Wait a Second: I Need to Pull Myself Together

Every time I write, I seem to find myself in an ironic situation. I am in a bit of a hurry to finish this blog on "Slowing Down." Yesterday, I practiced with the Wholeness Tradition (yes, it is called by other names; next week I will explain why I choose to call it "Wholeness") by slowing down.  However, I am writing about yesterday on a day when my schedule is packed from eight in the morning until ten at night. I am feeling the pressure to hurry. Life never goes well when I hurry or when my schedule is packed. I have forgotten to pick up children at soccer fields and swimming pools. Every accident I have ever been involved in has been caused by someone in a hurry, either me or the other driver.  

Last week I slammed my head into this tree branch. The granddaughters were at my house, the dog needed to be exercised and then put into her kennel, and I was in a hurry. I quickly threw the ball for the dog; she retrieved it back and forth, and as I went to get the ball from under a bush (it is sometimes hard to tell who or what is actually doing the fetching), I did not realize I was standing so close to the tree. I whipped around like a tornado and found I did not have tornado powers. I flew backwards and hit the ground when I smacked head first into the branch. My hurrying only took more of my time as I stumbled around putting the dog into her outdoor yard, went inside to apply a cold wash cloth to my head (my mother's cure for all ills), and sat down to do an Internet check on head injuries (I was fine). 

As a mother of four children, I know the times come when moving fast and I do mean fast are necessary. Corraling four children when one breaks free to run into the street requires the skills of Superwoman. But I think those times are more rare than we make them out to be. So yesterday as I walked down the hallway, I slowed down the pace and my heart rate followed my lead. Again, aerobic exercise or cardio walking is the time and place to work on my heart; rushing because I am stressing does not lead to wholeness and wellness.

I had the opportunity to squeeze in one more activity yesterday, an activity I had been trying to accomplish for a couple of weeks. However, to do so would shortchange all my other activities and even hinder the additional activity; therefore,  I did not add it. 

The first image up above came from a blog written in 2011. I can not vouch for the rest of the posts in this blog since this is the first time I have ever read anything from it, but in this post, the author makes the argument that our busyness is destroying our relationships. It is a good read, and I leave you with the link here. Busy is the new fine -- great title, yes? Sad title, but oh so accurate. I think I will continue to practice slowing down today by ending here, in plenty of time to get ready for my next appointment. :D

Monday, January 06, 2014

Contemplating Epiphany and Hope

I imagine I heard the word "Epiphany" while attending church when I was young; however, the word did not have any meaning for me until I took literature classes in college. In literature, epiphanies break forth in a character's life (or in the reader's mind) with the brilliance of a bright light in a dark room. A character is suddenly aware of knowledge about which he or she was previously in the dark. In chapter thirty-six of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Bingley says, "Till this moment I never knew myself." Often an epiphany causes us to realize as Jane did that we have been "blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd." 

It is difficult to have an epiphany when we move through our lives at such a rapid pace. Contemplation, to stay still long enough and quiet enough to give some thought attention, to meditate on it, enables me to change. I want change; I want to grow into a more loving, kind, thoughtful person. I need time with God to change. Yesterday, it did not take a lot of time for me to contemplate Epiphany. I spent five to ten minutes and then the thoughts just kept coming throughout the day. Yet, contemplation does take a beginning, a willingness to be quiet and thought-filled.  

In Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, the main character, John (the Savage) insists, "it is natural to believe in God when you're alone -- quite alone, in the night, thinking about death

Mustapha Mond, Controller of this brave new world, responds, "But people are never alone now. We make them hate solitude; and we arrange their lives so that it's almost impossible for them ever to have it." In the final chapter, John pays the ultimate price in a society where "nothing costs enough" -- the people don't have to deny themselves in any way to get the things they want, and they don't want anything they've not been conditioned to want. 

Huxley wrote twenty years after the book came out that he wished he had provided the Savage a third alternative, in that neither culture in the book was worth living for. Epiphanies without hope lead to deep dark pits -- a possible reason why people, not only in Brave New World, but also in our brave new world avoid contemplation and solitude. 

The Epiphany of over two thousand years ago brought with it Hope. God revealed Himself to Magi, wise men, men from the East. Not Jewish. 
Gentiles. What amazing hope I have in God who esteems, values and respects, women (as well as men, but in those days, the status of women was nil), who esteems shepherds (when no one in that culture would have), who esteems and loves outsiders (God draws them to Himself and guides them).

Yesterday's time of contemplation was not difficult. Perhaps it will be in the future, but tomorrow I write on practices of Wholeness. :D 

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Visions, Intentions, and Means for This Year's Journey

This is the second time I have pulled up my blog to write. The first time, I sat and sat and sat, until I gave up and logged out. Instead of sitting with no thoughts in mind, I did an Internet search on how to get to my granddaughter's birthday party at a pizza place forty-five minutes away. I had a vision of being at that party, but I also had another vision: It was of me lost two years ago coming home from that same pizza place. This time I am going with directions in hand. My RSVP (response to attend) signaled my intentions to follow through on my vision. All well and good, but I could have all the good intentions in the world, yet without the means and directions to do so, I will still be staying home.

All of this reminds me that our family's Magi are still on there way to see Jesus. They saw the "star in the east" and they had come "to worship him." If they had seen the star and done nothing more about it, their vision of the star would have been interesting, but that's about it. No adventure. No stories to tell in the future (people would soon tire of hearing how they saw a star). They intended to do something about seeing that star, and they did. They had the means to travel, but once they arrived in Jerusalem, they needed more: they needed directions (Matthew 2:1 does state that these were wise men). Without those means, all their visions and intentions would not have led them to a house in Bethlehem where "they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down and worshipped him" (Matthew 2:11).

Our "wise men" are experiencing some rough terrain. Rough terrain has knocked more than a few off course from their visions and intentions. These Magi will make it to their destination in a couple more days. Only time will tell whether I follow through on my vision and good intentions over the next month.

I'm happy to share my journey with you, and I hope you, too, have a vision for the months ahead. 

Friday, January 03, 2014

9th Day? 10th Day? Failure Leads to Success

Ironically, I am posting about contemplation and wholeness just as the twelve days of Christmas move into a whirlwind of activity (ten lords a-leaping, eleven pipers piping, and twelve drummers drumming). No wonder most of us do not try to emulate the song. For those of us who have already celebrated Christmas Day (many Orthodox Christians will not celebrate until January 7), we are ready to take down the decorations, put the tree out with the trash, and be done with the holiday craziness.

I am persevering until Monday, January 6 which I have just found out is the 12th Day of Christmas. I have been off by one day apparently this whole time. Christmas Day is…well…Christmas Day, all on its own. I should have started counting on the day after Christmas Day. Now that I know, I can improve for next year's celebrations. Growth and improvement is what I am going for this year. The word I am keeping in mind is "Practice."

Practice one day; write the next. If all goes as planned (I write those words even though I know full well that events rarely go as planned), I'm going to practice six traditions or virtues.

On Sundays, I am going to practice Contemplation, specifically contemplation with God. Contemplation without God does not tend to lead to growth and improvement for me. On Mondays, I will write on how contemplation works out (and maybe I'll even keep practicing), but I will practice Wholeness on Monday. I think of these two streams of life as more internal.

Tuesday will be for practicing an Incarnational life where the inner life mingles with the outer life, while Wednesday if for Compassionate practices, practices that include social justice. So these two days are external.

Thursday and Friday will be for the distinctly spiritual practices. All streams or traditions are spiritual to me, but that is for another day and another blog. Thursday, I practice the Spirit-empowered life, and Friday is for the Evangelical life; although, those practices may surprise some readers.  

This year's adventures await me. Failure awaits me. I practice because I have never learned something perfectly the first time I did whatever I was doing, and basically practices are an accumulation of failures that help me learn until I succeed. (Look back up at the first image. Putting it into this blog did not go smoothly. I lost count on how many times I failed, but finally the moment came when the picture was here, without 5 inches of blank space and without gobbling up three other paragraphs.) As always, I am not practicing alone. I have a Helper. I have Emmanuel, whose birth I just celebrated, whose life I celebrate every day. 

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Visions of …. on This 9th Day of Christmas

If it is Christmas, and someone says, "Visions of…" to me, I am automatically going to finish off with "sugarplums danced in their heads." Even though this picture to the right is one typical for The Night Before Christmas books where the sentence "visions of sugarplums danced in their heads" is found, I thought sugarplums really were plums. Instead, sugarplums are more like Turkish Delight with fruit, or fruitcake without flour. You can even find a recipe here. Not only did I discover a recipe for sugarplums, I also found out Janet Evanovich has a book titled Visions of Sugar Plums. I think neither the book nor the sugarplums have anything to do with the vision I am thinking of this ninth day of Christmas. Neither am I thinking of ladies dancing. I suppose someone's true love wanted the party to be beautifully festive, so he brought in nine ladies dancing, but then the next day (tomorrow) he sends ten lords a leaping. He now has an extra lord in the mix, unless he is the tenth and his lady love dances with him. But, I digress. This really is not the vision I had for today -- I just had to work in the whole days of Christmas thing. 

I wanted to find a really cool picture for VISION, totally forgetting that vision also means eyesight. That's when I found this picture to the left, which was used to entice students at Brown University to enroll in an Introduction to Computer Vision course this past Fall 2013. I did find the image enticing until I put it on the same page with a sweet little girl dreaming of sugar plums. Now it just looks scary. However, I am moving more toward one of my visions of variety in the look of my blog. I see other peoples' blogs, and I see what mine could look like…if only I had the knowledge to make it look better. Each time I write I determine (make a conscious decision) to write better or to learn and do something new. When all goes well, I do both. It helps to be focused on carrying out this plan. Multi-tasking: making pancakes, arranging for plane tickets, and writing at the same time is not working out (burned pancakes, loss of train of thought are two results of my multi-tasking).

Most of the time, I make a "To-Do" list, and it works for a while, but I have no vision of where I am headed. Yesterday, I wrote up what my typical week looks like, and after putting in the functions with set time frames, I wound up with a hodgepodge of activities. The synonym for the word "hodgepodge" is "jumble." Biblically, there is a verse for this condition: "Without a vision, the people perish."

People perish when they don't have a vision because they end up lost in a maze of activities clearly leading nowhere, like being lost inside the grooves of this plant pictured to the left. I was looking for a brain, but then I found this image of an underwater plant whose name I do not know because the site was in French. This image portrays me on a "To-do" day. I may end up feeling like I have done much as I cross off all those actions I have to do, but I do not necessarily end up anywhere. I need a vision. Unfortunately, visions squirm their way out of my head. I was looking at memes today. If you don't know what a meme is, don't feel badly. I didn't know those posts I was seeing on Facebook were called memes either. I just called them "What People Think I Do" posts. I started to write in detail about the definition of meme when I realize I had moved way far away from my original vision for this post -- my vision was to write about vision.

I start out envisioning a blog about vision, just like I wake up in the morning and envision a day of organizing, or a day of sending out cards and letters, or a day of applying for a job, or a wonderful day of seeing old friends.

What actually happens to my vision: Distractions set in, or fear hops on board, or reality comes calling. Reality isn't such a bad addition to vision…if it really is reality. When I was younger, I thought about all sorts of career choices: most of them had to do with fame and fortune. I realized I could not sing so becoming a singer was a good vision to cast aside. That's what I thought this morning, until I recalled that there are many singers who can not sing, yet they are making a living by singing. Which makes me wonder if maybe some deficits can be overcome by sheer tenacity, perseverance, and practice. Nonetheless, if I vomit at the sight of bodily fluids, being in the medical profession is probably not a good vision.

What people actually see of my vision is not much when distractions keep leading me astray. Visions have to be accompanied by determination and the means to carry out that determination. Dallas Willard writes extensively of this model VIM (vision, intention, means) in his book Renovation of the Heart.

When fear tries to destroy my vision, I need to go back to the original, check to see if it was a good vision in the first place, and if it was good, to remember who is for me -- God. I still need to get out of bed. Seriously, I am not interested in being God's robot or zombie. He's not interested in making me one either.

As I start the new year, I am putting some vim,  energy and enthusiasm for vision, intention, and means into my days. Not to be confused by VIM -- vendor independent messaging…whatever that means to computer knowledgeable people (my goodness, the things I learn…and get distracted by…when I look up material for this blog).  

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy New Year on This 8th Day of Christmas

"To be able to look backward and say, 'This, this has been the finest year of my life' -- that is glorious! But anticipation! To be able to look ahead and say, 'The present year can and SHALL be better!' -- that is more glorious! 

"If we said such things about our achievements, we would be consummate egotists. But if we are speaking of God's kindness, and we speak truly, we are but grateful. And this is what I do witness. I have done nothing but open windows -- God has done all the rest. There have been few if any conspicuous achievements. There has been a succession of marvelous experiences of the friendship of God." 

Letters of Frank Laubach